Seven candidates for the Manatee County School Board each had brief moments in the spotlight Wednesday evening in a forum by Restore Bayshore, an organization focused on improving Bayshore Gardens.
Candidates who participated are running for either District 1 or District 3.
District 1 candidates included: Xtavia Bailey, 37, of Palmetto; Gina Messenger, 29, of Parrish; Linda Schaich, 73, of Palmetto; and Edward G. Viltz, 69, of Bradenton.
District 3 candidates included: Charlie Conoley, 57, of Bradenton; Misty Servia, 52, of Manatee County; and incumbent Dave Miner of Bradenton.
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Restore Bayshore President Suzanna Young introduced the candidates, who were asked to opine before more than 30 attendees on standardized testing, impact fees, teacher evaluations, vocational training and whether giving Manatee teachers higher pay would attract more quality teachers.
I have chosen the path I have chosen in this space because I believe our students in Manatee County deserve better. We need a teacher on our school board who knows what it’s like to be inside a public school classroom, working with parents and planning with teachers.
Gina Messenger, candidate for Manatee County School Board District 1
At the beginning of the forum, candidates were each given a few minutes to introduce themselves and share why they’re running. Most then spoke about school board shortcomings.
“I have chosen the path I have chosen in this space because I believe our students in Manatee County deserve better. We need a teacher on our school board who knows what it’s like to be inside a public school classroom, working with parents and planning with teachers,” said Messenger, who has taught in inner city and rural schools. “Our school district is facing many issues. We are having a hard time retaining great teachers and our reading scores are far below the state’s average.”
Miner touted his experience as a school board member and said there’s been a lot of improvement in the four years he’s served.
“I’m passionate about what goes on in public education. I’ve demonstrated that for over 20 years,” he said, adding he didn’t want until he was a candidate before attending school board meetings.
According to Bailey, it’s time to get back to educating Manatee children and making sure they’re successful.
“We need school board members that are going to stand up for our kids. I’m a youth advocate, I have passion for our children. I’ve worked in corporate, I’ve worked in nonprofit and I’ve been in the classroom,” she said. “I think we need to get back to empowering our teachers and staff because those are the people who are teaching our children.”
Coloney, a banker/businessman, said he taught economics at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
“I am not a politician. I have people come to me and say, ‘Charlie, why are you doing this? You’ve been very successful. Why do you want to go and get involved in that hornet’s nest that is the school board?’” Coloney said. “And that’s why I’m getting involved. I don’t think our school board should be a hornet’s nest.”
I think we need to get back to empowering our teachers and staff because those are the people who are teaching our children.
Xtavia Bailey, candidate for Manatee County School Board District 1
Servia, a professional land use planner and mother of three teenagers, said her daughter had special needs. Because of this, Servia said she and her husband have a lot of experience navigating the special needs programs through Manatee County School District.
“I am running because I’m inspired by my daughter and so much of what she achieved as a child that didn’t speak until the eighth grade in the public schools and went on to win the Golden Herald Award in the category of speech,” the 52-year-old said. “I’m also running because I love Manatee County.”
Schaich said the public is about to choose a person to manage the largest, most important organization in Manatee County, a budget of $700 million, 5,800 employees and 45,000 students.
“Look for the person with the most experience,” she said. “I’m the only candidate in District 1 who can say, for the past eight years, I have attended and spoken at most board meetings, workshops and audit committee meetings.”
Viltz said the school board’s first priority is to provide the best public education possible.
“I think the focus needs to be more on the students. It needs to be less on political agendas,” he said. “It needs to be less on outside interests, and it needs to start, as another candidate mentioned, with rebuilding trust.”