District 2 candidates promise new direction for Manatee schools

MANATEE -- Events in the last month have changed the race for the District 2 school board seat.

Candidates Robert Moates and Dave Miner, at an election forum Wednesday hosted by the Bradenton Herald, said they understand the task ahead -- resolving a $3.5 million deficit in the 2012-13 budget and appointing a new superintendent to replace Tim McGonegal who resigned.

The candidates also say they will need to cope with growing public mistrust.

Both agreed there is a need for transparency and easy access to district documents. They also cited the importance of community involvement in the choice for the next superintendent and criticized administrators who allowed the budget shortfall to occur.

The difference will be in their approach.

"My experience gives me both the perspective and the frontline knowledge on how to reform our education," Moates said. "This job, going forward, is about our students."

Moates, who has taught at Lakewood Ranch High School for the past decade and is a native of Manatee County, says his perspective as an educator is crucial for a board that needs to make better choices on how to spend money. He said he hopes to move past a "static" and "one-size-fits-all" education and reshape curriculum so that technology can be used as a tool to drive education.

He wants public documents to be put online in a searchable manner and believes in zero-based budgeting, requiring budgets to be built from scratch each year, not based on the prior year.

Miner spoke about revamping board policies to promote openness, as he often has at community meetings. When Miner speaks, he identifies himself as Dave "Watchdog" Miner, using a nickname he's kept for more than a decade and tries to embody. He regularly attends every school board and audit committee meetings, criticizing the school board for a lack of transparency and financial accountability.

Miner's said he's been a passionate advocate for education. The Bradenton attorney and Vietnam veteran has served on various boards, such as the Florida Association of School Advisory Councils, in the past 15 years.

"I am a person that works well with boards," Miner said after the forum. "I've shown a passion for transparency in everything that I do."

Miner failed to beat board Chairman Harry Kinnan in 2004 and 2008 school board campaigns. In August, he failed to clinch 50 percent voter approval in the primary by less than 2 percentage points, garnering 48.5 percent of the vote. Moates was in second place with 31 percent.

Whatever the outcome of the election, a new board member may change the divided atmosphere that has existed in school board meetings in the past year, where board members Karen Carpenter and Julie Aranibar often questioned and opposed McGonegal's budget proposals.

On Wednesday, Kinnan said he could not confirm that former superintendent of Charlotte County David Gayler had accepted an offer from the county to be interim superintendent. Gayler said he would be meeting with Kinnan and school board attorney John Bowen Thursday to discuss timetables that could work for both parties.

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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