“First, do no harm” is generally viewed as a sacred vow for physicians to keep, but it should also be seen as a weighty obligation for anyone who holds a role in the education of our children.
Alas, it's a solemn responsibility that the Sarasota County School Board seems determined to ignore in its reckless push to terminate the contract of Superintendent Brennan Asplen after two years of widely praised leadership through turbulent times.
The rush to fire Asplen – which is being led by School Board members Bridget Ziegler, Karen Rose, Robyn Marinelli and Tim Enos, and despite the absurd reality that Marinelli and Rose joined the board only days ago – is an outrage.
And it is a potentially destructive move that everyone who truly cares about the future of the Sarasota County schools should speak out and stand up against – in a respectful, constructive, meaningful and civil manner – between now and the School Board’s scheduled Nov. 29 vote on Asplen’s fate.
That’s the best way to respond to the School Board's unseemly endeavor, which has been carried out with total and utter contempt for openness, fairness and, frankly, just plain common sense.
Lack of transparency
There are signs that the School Board majority’s campaign to dump Asplen – which has been opposed by Tom Edwards, the board's fifth member – has been conducted in an orchestrated fashion that at best violates the spirit of Florida’s open-government Sunshine Law.
For example, simple logic suggests that some behind-the-scenes preplanning had to take place to enable Rose, only minutes after the start of the School Board’s Nov. 22 meeting, to make a motion for a future meeting to discuss ending Asplen’s contract – and for her recommendation to swiftly draw supportive votes and little discussion from Ziegler, Marinelli and Enos.
Such suspicions are even more alarming because Rose’s motion came not long after Marinelli and Enos were officially sworn in as School Board members, which should have been far too soon for them to already know enough about Asplen’s contract to confidently back an abrupt proposal aimed at ending it.
Here's the bottom line: There are disturbing questions about the School Board’s lack of transparency that should be answered – and our community must fully have those answers before any vote on Asplen’s contract can even be considered.
Lack of fairness
We recently called for Asplen, who became superintendent in 2020, to receive a fair shake from a School Board that was transformed by the August election, which saw Marinelli and Enos win seats and join Ziegler and Rose to form a conservative majority on the panel.
Unfortunately, it's now obvious that Asplen won't get the open-minded appraisal that he deserves and, more to the point, that his performance should warrant.
As the schools chief, Asplen has:
► Overseen an ambitious strategic plan designed to meet the needs of a rapidly growing school system.
► Maintained Sarasota County’s annual status as one of Florida’s “A” rated districts.
► Provided stable leadership through the pandemic, which brought challenges ranging from responsibly protecting the health of students to defusing the inflammatory flashpoints caused by over-the-top parental opposition to mask mandates and other sensible COVID protocols.
► Helped the district’s schools make a quick rebound from the physical and psychological toll of Hurricane Ian, which caused major damage in sections of Sarasota County.
► Consistently received “highly effective” evaluations from the School Board, including a positive review that was issued just weeks ago.
By all objective measures, Asplen shouldn’t be a superintendent fighting to save his job. And if the newly formed School Board is so dead-set on taking that job away from Asplen, it owes the community far more compelling reasons than the dubious ones – satisfying political agendas and settling old scores – that now seem to be driving its obsession to remove him.
A lack of common sense
Let’s be clear: the more you examine the School Board majority’s desire to oust and humiliate Asplen, the less it makes sense from any conceivable angle.
It doesn’t make sense in terms of helping the School Board enhance its credibility with the district’s diverse stakeholders – especially given that Marinelli and Enos largely won their August races by assuring citizens they would focus on bringing calm, not chaos, to Sarasota County’s education process.
(So much for those hollow assurances!)
It doesn’t make sense in terms of empowering the district’s teachers and staffers, who are now well aware that even high-achieving that even high-achieving employees may find their careers held hostage to the petty whims of a secretive School Board.
And it doesn’t make sense in terms of encouraging the county’s estimated 46,000 students to believe that their education is the top priority of all the adults who have been entrusted to safeguard it.
The School Board should think again before it takes a needless step that may cause real harm to the Sarasota County school district.
– This editorial was written by Opinions Editor Roger Brown for the Herald-Tribune Editorial Board.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: The Sarasota County School Board's move to fire Asplen defies logic