Two Manatee County School Board veterans are competing for the District 4 seat. The incumbent, Karen Carpenter, is finishing her first term after several turbulent years for the district. Her opponent, Frank Brunner, served on the board from 1996 to 2006, when he resigned to campaign for county commission, a race he lost.
Carpenter, a retired nonprofit director and banker, oversaw dramatic change beginning with revelations of financial mismanagement and budget deficits followed by the sudden resignation of Superintendent Tim McGonegal and the hiring of his replacement, Rick Mills.
Today, the district expects to reach a $10.3 million fund balance as administrators close out the books for the 2013-14 fiscal year, finally coming into compliance with a state-mandated 3 percent reserve for the first time since 2009.
Carpenter played a key role in hiring Mills as superintendent in February 2013, serving as board chair.
She has been a strong advocate for civility, transparency and cultural change, and a vocal critic of such past practices as nepotism and cronyism.
As Carpenter noted at the Herald-METV candidate forum, Manatee County was one of only two school districts in the state that lacked an anti-nepotism policy. That is no longer the case, though change met resistance by those who prefer the "good old boy network," as she stated.
Carpenter also has stated that she helped steer the district away from past mistakes, grievous errors that didn't adhere to "the spirit or letter of the law."
"I take no pleasure or joy in having to do all this clean up," she told Herald education reporter Meghin Delaney. But Carpenter does deserve some credit for the district's progress out of budget deficits and misspending.
Now she's intent on regaining and rebuilding community trust in the district, vital after years of public discontent over policies and priorities. But she's also focused on student safety and achievement. This year, the district showed gains in several state education rankings based on student test scores.
While Manatee's overall state ranking only rose three places, to 37th out of 67 Florida districts, the uptick reflects progress.
Carpenter also places a high priority on collaboration with the Manatee Education Association in order to improve student achievement, and the teachers union endorsed her candidacy.
Her commitment to education extends to her volunteer service with ReadingPals, working with kindergartners and third-graders at several elementary schools, and Take Stock in Children, serving as a mentor in this scholarship program for low-income high school students.
Brunner, the executive director of the nonprofit Manatee County Crimestoppers, rented an apartment in District 4 to become eligible for the office. But board members are elected countywide in these nonpartisan contests and serve the entire school district.
Early voting begins Aug. 16 with the primary election on Aug. 26.
Carpenter has demonstrated the drive to put the district on a sound path in education, administration and ethics. Her first term is a barometer of positive improvements is all three areas.
For the Manatee County school board District 4 seat, the Herald recommends Karen Carpenter.
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 on bradenton.com/video. METV is also regularly airing 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.