People to Watch

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2006

Every issue of our magazine is filled with stories of enterprising men and women who are reshaping the region with new ideas, products and entrepreneurial energy. Bradenton developer Ron Allen, featured in this issue, is one such example. Undaunted by a hockey injury that sidelined him for a year, Allen's eagerness for new challenges and projects exemplifies the spirit of our top businesspeople.

To celebrate this spirit, we want you to help us single out 25 rising stars and prime movers in the local business world as our 2006 "People To Watch." They will be the centerpiece of our July issue and honored at a special event June 22.

We're inviting you to nominate up-and-comers, established business powers and other professionals who are making a mark upon the business of our region by doing something new and exciting. You can even nominate yourself! You'll find a nomination form in this issue as well as a form on our Web site at Nominations must be received by March 31.

Note to Gary Norris and Sarasota School Board Members

The school tax referendum is March 14, and I've read all the material you've provided. I've been to your Web site. I've talked to Carl Weinrich, chairman for Citizens for Better Schools, about why we need to extend the one-mill tax for four more years. I've noted the business organizations that have endorsed the referendum-The Argus Foundation, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council of Sarasota County-and the surprise celebrity endorsement from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. I've studied how the money was used since the last referendum in 2002, and now I've made my decision.

I'm voting in favor of the tax, just as I did in 2002, but it was harder this time and I'd like you to know why. Four years ago I knew our schools were in trouble. Now, thanks to the referendum dollars and exploding property values, you've collected $40 million more than was estimated in 2002. The school district received a huge windfall, and it's hard for taxpayers like me not to wonder why they're not getting a break this time around.

I also have my doubts about the Next Generation Learning plan. Outlined in great detail in mind-numbing education-speak, it promises to prepare students at the highest level possible for a global economy that requires brilliance in math and science and, at the same time, to establish a technical high school and technical programs for our non-college bound students, in order to satisfy the U.S. economy's growing need for skilled technical labor. You're also planning to close the achievement gap, reduce the dropout rate, put technology in all classrooms, raise teacher pay to one of the highest levels in the nation and lengthen the school day.

It's an admirable but perhaps overly ambitious agenda, and I wonder whether any system should forge ahead simultaneously on so many different paths.

And yet, when I walk into my polling station, I know I will touch the "yes" button. Public education is just too important. Florida is ranked fourth in student population but 42nd in per-student funding. This referendum will cost the resident of a $300,000 house $275 a year-less than a cup of coffee a day, as Norris likes to say. Sarasotans have always shown that they value an exceptional education, and I challenge you to succeed despite my reservations.

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