In just four months, Scott Hopes has risen from being a little known businessman appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to replace the retiring Karen Carpenter on the School Board of Manatee County to being elected unanimously Tuesday night to be the board’s new chairman.
It was apparent that Hopes, who does not lack confidence, had been preparing for his meteoric rise because, following an official photograph with newly elected Vice Chairman Gina Messenger, he was immediately able to talk in depth about his new proposal for keeping Manatee County schools on financial track during his one-year tenure.
His proposal is to gain the support of his fellow board members to create a citizens financial committee composed of seven to nine local leaders and charge them to thoroughly “vet out” the district’s budget.
John Colon, the outgoing vice chairman, nominated both Hopes and Messenger at the board’s annual reorganization meeting.
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No one other than Hopes and Messenger were nominated for the two top posts.
Before nominating Hopes, Colon said: “He has two Ph.D.s He has been in education and business.”
Of Messenger, Colon said: “She has the skills to do the job.”
Board members universally rallied around the nominations and congratulated both winners.
Messenger was a school teacher herself and is now a stay-home mom raising a young daughter who will one day enter the school district.
Superintendent Diane Greene told Hopes and Messenger that she is eager to work with them during the coming year.
Citizens finance committee
Hopes said he is the guy who can win over nervous Manatee voters who face a ballot question on March 20. 2018, when they will vote on a one-mill property tax increase to create $33 million in fresh school funding to make teacher and staff salaries more competitive.
Hopes has a doctorate in business administration from the University of South Florida. He was director of health policy for the state of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration and managed a budget exceeding $17 billion. He was also on the board of trustees of the University of South Florida system and oversaw a budget of $2.1 billion.
“At one time in the history of this district there was a committee comprised of local business leaders that went by the wayside,” Hopes said. “But in my meetings with community and business leaders it became apparent that we have a lot of expertise in the community that want to help. This is a big job.”
The proposed committee would operate under Florida Sunshine laws and, just like the board’s current audit committee, would report directly to the board, Hopes said.
“It will serve a number of roles,” Hopes said. “It will evaluate the proposed budget to challenge it, to vet it, to offer suggestions and then move toward validating it. Then, the audit committee can validate assumptions, test assumptions, look at the reasonableness of the budget and then, what we should be presented with is a proposed budget that has been vetted by community experts and has community buy-in. From there, we will be able to set out the revenues we need in the various categories to fund our goals and priorities.”
The board’s vote for Hopes directly followed endorsements for Hopes from two frequent citizen commentators, Dr. Richard Conard and Glen Gibelina.
“We are at a fork in the road,” Dr. Conard said. “The leadership that is best for us is Mr. Hopes.”
“Mr. Hopes has the experience we need,” Gibelina said.