MANATEE -- The Manatee school board made a clear statement Monday night by choosing two board members that consistently questioned the district's financial decisions before this year's budget crisis to be the next chair and vice chair.
Karen Carpenter, formerly vice chairman, is the new chair of the Manatee County school board. Julie Aranibar will serve as vice chair.
Carpenter was nominated by board member Bob Gause before being unanimously voted the board's new leader Monday. Member Barbara Harvey nominated Aranibar. All but Gause supported Harvey's decision.
As the district developed the 2012-13 budget earlier this year, Carpenter and Aranibar often questioned budget proposals put forth by former Superintendent Tim McGonegal, causing votes to often be divided 3-2. McGonegal later resigned in September after announcing a $3.4 million deficit in the budget that administrators failed to notice.
"These are not traditional times," Carpenter said as she took the center spot on the dais. "We are going to have to change the way we do business, because in part it was business as usual that got us into this."
There was also a sense of celebration on Monday as supporters and friends of Dave "Watchdog" Miner came out to mark the newly-elected member's first night on the board and watch as he was administered the oath of office. Gause, elected in the August primary, also was sworn in.
Several members of the community spoke about their hope that Miner, a longtime advocate for transparency and accountability who was elected on Nov. 6, will be a catalyst for change.
"Mr. Miner has been an advocate for more years than I can count," said Bill Braselton, of the American Fed
eration of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We've sat here and seen a lot of division ... we need to trim that down."
Miner used his speaking time to remind board members that in addition to seeking a new superintendent, the district needs to look into legal counsel options in light of school attorney John Bowen's upcoming June retirement. The board decided to talk about legal counsel at the next meeting, whether to continue with one overall attorney or look into options for separate or outside counsel.
Miner said he was humbled by the overwhelming support from the community.
"It's a real privilege to be here," he said to the crowd. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.