MANATEE -- Two high school teachers, an attorney and a chief executive officer of a government-funded educational organization will be contending for a seat on the Manatee County school board.
Robert Moates, William Chaltis, Dave Miner and Paul Sharff are seeking the District 2 seat vacated by longtime member Harry Kinnan, who is retiring.
The seat could be key to the future tone of the board, which has become increasingly split in recent years by 3-2 votes on major schools issues such as the budget.
The crowded race features a candidate who has run multiple campaigns in the past
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against Kinnan and a former Republican state committee man who has opted not to run an active campaign for the primaries. Two other candidates say they bring valuable frontline experience to the board, with experiences in politics and business respectively.
Chaltis owned and ran a Singer sewing and vacuum store for 20 years before retiring at around age 40.
Influenced by his wife, a teacher, Chaltis decided to teach.
"I thought I could give back to the community to help students because students matter," he said. "There is no better service than helping educate students."
Chaltis taught math for five years at Lee Middle School, then has taught at Palmetto High School for seven years. Chaltis decided to run for office after realizing how little recent classroom experience most current board members have.
As a teacher, Chaltis thinks block scheduling in high schools and grade retention policies in elementary schools are detrimental to learning and student achievement. As for the district's tentative budget, Chaltis said he understands the need for austerity but disagrees with Superintendent Tim McGonegal's plan to use a $2 million surplus to give employees a 1 percent bonus.
"I'd rather see all surplus go toward health insurance to lower premiums," Chaltis said. "If they could budget more money on their end to lower health costs to lower-earning income people at the schools, people would be able to better budget their lives."
Chaltis has $3,020 in his campaign coffers, and he put in most of the money. Two other teachers contributed to his campaign. Chaltis said he doesn't keep tabs on endorsements.
Miner, a Bradenton attorney and a Vietnam veteran, ran two unsuccessful campaigns against Kinnan in 2008 and 2004, and ran for the District 68 House seat twice in previous years.
Miner, who has been a vocal critic of the school board for years, said he decided to run again at the urging of his supporters.
"Many people felt and I felt, too, that there was no existing candidate, or probably anyone else in the community, who possesses my knowledge of school board matters," Miner said.
In this campaign, he said he is dissatisfied with McGonegal's handling of schools because of the dropout and graduation rates. He's also not happy about the district's tentative budget of $554 million.
"I am concerned about the process in that it does not have all the community input that it should have had," he said. "They did not provide in there a focus on salaries and incentives for employees that are closest to the children."
Miner received $18,405 in campaign contributions in the most recent quarter, according to public records. Contributors include Holmes Beach City Commissioner Sandra Haas-Martins. Among those who endorsed Miner's campaign are the Manatee County Education Association, Tea Party Manatee and Holmes Beach Mayor Richard Bohnenberger.
Before Moates started teaching at Lakewood Ranch High School 10 years ago, he has worked the halls of Tallahassee and Washington. D.C.
The Manatee County native with a political science degree, Moates was a legislative aide and analyst, and worked on political campaigns. After 10 years, he gave up politics and went into teaching.
"I got really sick of political life and I wanted to do something that is meaningful," he said.
Moates teaches AP American government and honors economics. He credited a former student for his decision to run for office when she asked him why so little has changed in education in the past decades and what he is doing about it. The questions struck a chord.
Moates said he thinks efficiency can be improved in schools to increase student-teacher time. As for the budget, he said it bothers him that salaries for the district's teaching staff have not been finalized and are still being negotiated.
"What are they doing that they don't have time to sit down and figure out our salaries?" Moates said. "These are the people who deliver education to our children. ... It's ridiculous that it takes so long to figure this out."
So far, Moates has collected $24,541 for his campaign, according to public records. Contributors include termed-out State Sen. Mike Bennett, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen. Moates has been endorsed by the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, the Manatee Sarasota Home Builders Association and developer Pat Neal.
If elected, both Moates and Chaltis say they will give up their teaching jobs.
Sharff is no stranger to politics in Manatee County.
The former developer and current chief executive officer of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County was a GOP state committee man and served on the local Republican executive committee and the Sarasota Airport Authority board.
A unique contender in this race, Sharff has been largely missing from the campaign trail.
It's a tactic, he said. In his experience, it's difficult for a candidate to garner 50 percent of the vote in a four-person race.
"I've been involved in politics for 25 years and people always say they needed a choice, and so I decided to put my name on the ballot to give them a choice," he said. "If they care to vote for me in the primary, then we will go from there."
Sharff declined to answer questions when contacted recently, saying he will not be participating in campaign activities until after Aug. 14, if the race goes into a runoff.
Sharff filed for bankruptcy several years ago after real estate-related lawsuits were filed against him, according to Herald archives. He is paid $90,000 a year at the Early Learning Coalition, according to public records.
He spent $1,550 on the qualifying fees for his campaign.