MANATEE -- Tom Garland has been speaking to school board members during the public comments portion of meetings for months. But today, he and a small ad hoc group called the Committee for Improving the Education of Children in Manatee County, or CIEC, will go a step beyond speaking to board members.
At the top of the list: Fire school board attorney John Bowen and begin a national search to replace Superintendent Tim McGonegal.
CIEC has scheduled a news conference for 4:30 p.m. today at the school administration building parking lot , 215 Manatee Ave. W.
Garland says it’s time board members act on behalf of the children of Manatee County.
Specifically, CIEC says it will call on the school board to:
-- Fire Bowen and to initiate an outside investigation of recent lawsuits that it says have cost the district thousands of dollars that would be better spent in classrooms.
-- Begin a national search for a new superintendent "with a proven track record of improving student results."
-- "Initiate an investigation of emails and communications between board members and the extent to which, by intent or otherwise, any board members feel they are being constrained from voicing and bringing to light problems within (Manatee County School District( and otherwise limited from doing the job they were elected to do."
-- "Initiate an outside investigation into why MCSD has the highest per student administrative costs of any Florida community and an implementation of responsible cuts, reductions, and efficiencies."
-- "Initiate an outside investigation of the Manatee Education Foundation and to what extent it provides a benefit or cost to MCSD."
Garland is especially disappointed in board members because of the treatment of a child with disabilities. The child was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. Garland said the child’s parents had to go through three years of legal wrangling with the school district because district officials wouldn’t allow an independent evaluation of the child.
“How that child was treated was wrong,” Garland said. “It’s simply disgraceful what the district has done to this family.”
In early March, school board members unanimously approved a legal settlement of $55,000 with the autistic child’s family. However, the lawsuit had gone on for three years.
Before settling, the case went to the Division of Administrative Hearing in 2008. An administrative law judge found in favor of the parents. However, the school district appealed to U.S. District Court in Tampa. District officials sought an appeal to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Tampa, which asked for all avenues to be exhausted in Tampa first.
The parents wanted a private psychologist to evaluate their child who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Bowen, however, believed the district had a right “to control access to the classroom by outside vendors.”
At least one of the parents of that child will be on hand to speak during today’s news conference, according to the CIEC news release.
Garland named two other members of CIEC: Richard Green and James Ferguson.
Garland and Greene are members of the school district's budget committee, and Garland also is an activist with Tea Party Manatee. Ferguson is a local accountant and former candidate for the school board.