BRADENTON -- Three of the four candidates in the most competitive Manatee County School Board race sparred in a candidate forum Thursday.
The forum, sponsored by the Bradenton Herald and METV, featured board candidates for the District 5 seat, which pulls candidates from the eastern part of the county. Board members are elected by the county as a whole and represent the entire district.
The candidates hit on a number of hot-topic issues the district is facing: rebuilding public trust, the leadership under Superintendent Rick Mills and the district's troubled financial situation.
Four candidates are vying for the District 5 seat: incumbent Julie Aranibar, former MTI head Mary Cantrell, former Bradenton councilman James Golden and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Carlton "Les" Nichols.
Nichols said his job prevented him from attending Thursday. Nichols works as a community/condo manager, overseeing budgeting and day-to-day operations, according to his campaign website.
One of the first issues the candidates addressed was rebuilding public trust in the district.
"I've found it most effective to listen," Cantrell said.
Golden highlighted his visibility in the community as a way to build community trust.
"I've been active in this community and visible in this community," he said.
A new way of doing business in the district, Aranibar said, includes being very transparent and will help regain trust.
"I've seen the transparency," she said.
In a candidate questionnaire for the forum, Nichols identified restoring fiscal confidence, improving morale and increasing communication as his top three priorities.
Golden said he would not have voted to extend Mills' contract if he had been on the board earlier this year, but he said it's too early to judge what effect Mills and his team are having on the district.
Cantrell said she admires the work Mills has done, but she's "discouraged with actions under his direct command."
Aranibar said she is "very satisfied" with the district's direction under Mills.
All the candidates said the district should discard an "East versus West" mentality.
The primary election will be held Aug. 26. If a runoff election is needed, which is likely in the case of the district 5 seat, it will be held Nov. 4.
Candidate forums for the two other school board races, seats 2 and 4, will be held Wednesday.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.