This crowded field of four candidates for Manatee County school board District 5 offers voters diverse choices on the Aug. 26 ballot. Unless one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will compete in the November general election -- a likely outcome.
Board incumbent and medical business administrator Julie Aranibar, former Manatee Technical Institute director Mary Cantrell, attorney and pastor James T. Golden and community manager Carlton "Les" Nichols are vying for this East Manatee district seat.
All county voters, however, have the opportunity to cast ballots in this contest. Candidates must live in their district, but then represent the entire county upon election.
Four years ago, then school district critic Julie Aranibar ran on a platform that spotlighted her views of financial mismanagement and administrative secrecy. As a member of the district's sales tax accountability committee from 2002 to 2010, she had primary knowledge of the system's shortcomings.
Her campaign position back then proved prophetic when the district descended into chaos two years after her election. Unexplained and deep deficits became public knowledge and Superintendent Tim McGonegal hastily resigned after announcing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
Serving as this year’s board chair, Aranibar has been one of the key voices espousing transparency and accountability, which should give residents a clearer view of district spending and priorities.
Her current focus is continuing the district’s progress, on both the financial and educational fronts. With an administrative team only now in its second year, the district has scored improvements on student achievement and now boasts a balanced 2014-15 budget with a healthy reserve account — the first in years.
During her term, the board established a audit committee of citizens with financial backgrounds to ensure accountability and issue recommendations. This is a major turn-around from the previous administration, which disbanded a vital resident committee charged with budget oversight in 2011.
With new internal fiscal controls and audit functions as well as new staff in the finance department, the district has implemented sound measures to ensure the past budget disasters will not be repeated.
And by aligning the budget to education, the board is properly shifting the district's emphasis to public demands for greater student achievement. Aranibar has been a leading proponent of this change.
The Florida Department of Education found fault with the years-long misspending and mismanagement but the state has accepted the district's action plans to institute controls and practices to financial stability.
Aranibar's push for more transparency has been important to rebuilding public trust in the district. The revamped website and social media efforts allow easier public access to reports and other information, a big change from the past practice of dodging citizen requests for details on district matters.
We encourage the incumbent to balk at consent agendas overloaded with approval requests without public discussion. All major spending decisions merit scrutiny and taxpayer input.
During her first term on the board, Aranibar has proven worthy of the post and worthy of re-election.
For the Manatee County School Board District 5 post, the Herald recommends Julie Aranibar.
Candidates who do not receive the Herald Editorial Board's endorsement are invited to submit a response of up to 300 words by 4 p.m. the next weekday after the endorsement appears in print.
Those can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 745-7047.
View candidate forums
The Herald, in partnership with Manatee Educational Television, videotaped candidate forums in a variety of key races.
These forums can be viewed anytime on bradenton.com/video. METV is also regularly airing all the forums, and the station can be viewed on Brighthouse channel 614, Verizon FIOS 31 and Comcast 19.
For METV airtimes, visit www.metvweb.com.