BRADENTON -- Elementary school security, education credentials and Common Core were the hot button issues as the public heard from two Manatee County School Board candidates Thursday.
District 5 school board candidates Julie Aranibar and Mary Cantrell spoke before members of the Manatee Tiger Bay Club at its monthly luncheon Thursday at Pier 22 in Bradenton. The candidates explained their reasons for running and detailed their qualifications during the hour-long forum.
Among the most contentious issues was a debate over a school board vote expected Tuesday on armed security officers for elementary schools.
Cantrell said she believes the district is taking the "cheap" route and she'd prefer to have uniformed officers.
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Aranibar said the plan for the officers came directly from the community, and the district needs to provide a safe environment for students. The survey Aranibar referenced never asked community members directly whether they wanted private armed security officers in elementary schools.
Aranibar said the district doesn't have $5 million for school resource officers in every elementary school, and she wants to make sure every school is treated the same.
"I'm not going to tell Anna Maria Island since you are affluent you will have an SRO officer, but where the actual shooting might take place in Palmetto, you will not," Aranibar said.
The Holmes Beach Department has provided an officer for Anna Maria Elementary School, but over the summer police officials asked the board to help shoulder the cost. The district wants to contract with a private security firm to provide armed officers for all elementary schools.
The district, which will pay $1 million a year for the next three years under the proposed security contract, did its due diligence when coming up with the security plan, Aranibar said.
"It's much more complicated than people realize," she said.
Aranibar and Cantrell were also asked about the controversial Common Core standards, which have been changed and adopted in Flor
ida as Florida Standards.
Cantrell said she believes in "local control of education," while Aranibar said she is bound to abide by the state Legislature, which includes the standards.
Voters will decide who will take the four-year term in November after neither Cantrell nor Aranibar garnered enough votes to win the election outright during a primary in August. Carlton "Les" Nichols and James Golden were knocked out of the primary after failing to gain enough support.
Aranibar, the board chairwoman who was first elected in 2010, said she wants to "continue the progress" the district has made in the past four years.
"This election is pivotal, it's pivotal in the direction we'll head," she said.
Cantrell, the former head of Manatee Technical Institute, said she wants to bring the success she had leading MTI to the board, and bring the district as a whole to an internationally recognized standard of excellence.
"I am committed to Manatee County, I am committed to every student," she said.
Aranibar defended her educational background and qualifications for running for the board, when both candidates where questioned by an audience member. Aranibar's educational background falls under the science fields, but she said she's been involved with different aspects of the district since her children began attending Manatee schools in 1998. Aranibar said she worked to put herself through all her courses.
"I never gave up," she said.
Cantrell, who holds a Ph.D., said her educational background, in addition to her track record at MTI, make her the best choice.
"I think it qualifies me to be on the school board," she said.
The District 5 seat was one of three up for election this year. Incumbent Karen Carpenter beat former school board member Frank Brunner in August and will keep her District 4 seat. Charlie Kennedy, a teacher a Manatee High School, beat Rodney Jones to take the District 2 seat currently held by Barbara Harvey, who did not seek re-election.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.