Sarasota School Board discusses reading scores, approves superintendent contract extension

Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Steven Walker | June 19, 2024

The Sarasota County School Board unanimously approved a positive performance evaluation and a new, bigger contract for first-year Superintendent Terry Connor at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Connor’s newly approved contract extends his tenure through 2029 and keeps his compensation at $255,000 per year. The approval comes following a board workshop earlier in the morning where Connor’s staff presented updates on the district’s yearly budget and comprehensive reading plan. The presentation on the district’s reading plan comes as Sarasota County projects to see a seven percentage point increase in third-grade reading achievement — a dramatic increase compared to the previous year.

“The results in raw data make me want to dance on the dais, but I will control myself,” board chair Karen Rose said about reading scores.

Following the unanimous approval of his contract extension, Connor offered thanks to the board and his wife for working with him for the last year.

“This contract puts my youngest through his senior year,” he said. “I’m glad that I have five years, but the stability personally and the stability for this community is, I think, tremendous.”

Karen Rose stands over her newly-minted nameplate following her election as chairwoman of the Sarasota School Board in November. Steven Walker

While appreciative of the positive comments from the board, he said the district’s work had just begun.

Contract extension

The now-approved contract extension between the board and Superintendent Connor would keep him with Sarasota County Schools through 2029 at the same compensation he received previously. Patrick Duggan, the board’s legal counsel, said negotiations were “pleasant” and only took a few days.

Connor’s pay could be increased annually, according to the contract, following an agreement of the board and the superintendent before Nov. 1 each year.

The contract also continues the precedent that the board can fire the superintendent with a simple majority vote, as it has moved towards previously with superintendents such as Brennan Asplen. If fired without cause, Connor would be entitled to about $100,000 before benefits are paid.

Several people who spoke during public comment congratulated Connor on his extension and emphasized to the board that they should approve the new agreement.

“We are pleased that he is being offered a five-year contract,” said Carol Lerner on behalf of the Support Our Schools organization. “So important in achieving his goals outlined in the district’s strategic plan.”

Board member Bridget Ziegler, who was notably the only board member to vote against Connor as superintendent, offered praise in his evaluation. She called Connor a “breath of fresh air” who “far exceeded expectations.”

“I’ve never felt better about the position of this district, and very appreciate your tenacity and your focus and your leadership,” she said to Connor.

Before the vote, Ziegler said she looked forward to the district extending his contract and keeping him in Sarasota County.

Fellow board member Tom Edwards, who often disagrees with his other four board members, instead offered his agreement with their praise of Connor.

“What they said,” Edwards said.

Literacy plan

During the board work session earlier in the morning, district staff — dressed all in red sports coats to represent unity — presented a literacy program to continue reading achievement increases. The plan cites the newly approved strategic plan, spearheaded by Connor, and its points to advocate for universal literacy in Sarasota County Schools.

Broken down by elementary, middle school and high school, the literacy plan lays out instruction items, progress monitoring and remediation/intervention strategies for each age level.

Sarasota County Schools have seen decreasing reading scores over the last several years in part due to COVID-19 driving instruction to remote platforms. A fall in scores was one reason the board majority moved to terminate the previous superintendent in 2022.

John Wilson, who speaks frequently at school board meetings, criticized the literacy program for banking on referendum funds — which are up for a vote in November. He said it isn’t guaranteed that the referendum will pass.

“When I see that, I think, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go buy this car on a job I might have in six months,” he said.

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