School Board appoints Allison Foster as interim superintendent, sets new meeting times
Herald-Tribune | By Steven Walker | February 7, 2023
Allison Foster, the Sarasota County School District’s executive director of human resources, was unanimously appointed Tuesday to serve as interim superintendent until the School Board chooses a permanent replacement for Brennan Asplen, who was abruptly fired in December.
Foster also worked as a principal at Phillippi Shores Elementary for 13 years. Chris Renouf, who was appointed as the acting superintendent temporarily after Asplen’s departure, returns to his previous position as an assistant superintendent and chief academic officer.
Foster’s contract will be drafted in the coming days and considered for approval at the next School Board meeting on Feb. 21.
She and Ron DiPillo, the executive director of career and technical education at Suncoast Technical College, had put their names forward to be considered for the appointment. Board member Tom Edwards sought to appoint DiPillo but received no second to his motion. He did, however, say he fully supports Foster and ultimately voted in favor of her appointment.
Board member Karen Rose made the motion to appoint Foster and cited her desire to increase reading achievement as a reason for her appointment.
“Student achievement is a passion of mine; I love working with students,” Foster said during the meeting. “It is a passion of mine to push our students to be the best that they can be.”
It’s unclear exactly how long she will serve as interim, as the district has only just started its search for a new superintendent. Board Chair Bridget Ziegler has said the district hopes to have a new superintendent vetted and hired by the start of the 2023-24 school year.
Before Asplen’s termination, Foster was rumored to be named as his interim successor. Edwards addressed what he called “the rumor mill” ahead of the appointment vote, expressing concerns that Foster was preordained to be the interim.
“After the recent School Board election, a rumor mill became alive and well… that this new board was interested in terminating the superintendent and that they had a candidate in mind,” Edwards said. “It seems as though much of the rumor mill has been coming to pass.”
During discussion before the vote, Edwards suggested the board put restrictions on the interim administrator, requiring some personnel changes to be subject to board approval. He likened his suggestion to not allowing a substitute teacher to rewrite lesson plans.
The board majority disagreed with his suggestion. Board member Robyn Marinelli said whoever she voted to appoint as interim had her full confidence to make the best decisions for students in the district.
“Big surprise, the four didn’t agree with me,” Edwards said about the conservative board majority, which moved quickly to push Asplen out following the seating of two new conservative board members in November, shifting the balance of power on the panel.
During public comment, several people commended the School Board for voting earlier in the day to keep “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” on district bookshelves following a parent’s challenge.
“Imagine if the resources spent on this book-banning process had been used to tutor Sarasota third-graders instead,” one commenter said.
Jennifer Cottrill, who supported the removal of Asplen, asked the board during public comment to not appoint Foster, instead asking them to “hire someone with a backbone.” When Rose made the motion to appoint Foster, she stood up and walked out.
“She does not have a good track record for supporting our staff, and seems to have a habit of misplacing complaints in order to make things go away,” she said.
The Sarasota County School District Transparency Page, a conservative activist Facebook group focused on Sarasota education issues, posted a comment during the meeting calling Foster a “terrible choice.”
The board also approved adjusted times for some 2023 School Board meetings. Meetings scheduled for March 7, April 4, May 2, June 6, Sept. 5, Oct. 3 and Nov. 7 were moved to 3 p.m. from 6 p.m. while all other meetings remained at 6 p.m.
Ziegler said part of the 3 p.m. change had to do with lessening the burden on district staff and increasing accessibility by offering more times to meet apart from only 6 p.m. meetings.