Sarasota School Board chair Kathy Kleinlein has been one of Next Generation education’s staunchest supporters. She’s also the only member of the board with an M.B.A. as well as a doctorate in education. She formerly taught high school English and trained employees within a Fortune 500 company. Today, she’s director of faith formation for the 10-county Catholic Diocese of Venice. Kleinlein leads a divided board in a year when the district is staggering from the one-two punch of $32 million in reduced revenues and Superintendent Gary Norris’ imminent departure.
Have you heard comments about the unprofessional tone at board meetings?
Yes. People have divergent styles and ways of looking at education. The school board gets mired in minutiae and that tends to rile up certain members. There are board members who have a tendency to snipe at each other, and that’s often when tensions are high.
Why did you hire Lori White rather than conduct a national search?
A long, drawn-out search, whether in-house or nationally, would have caused different groups to form factions just as they did with Gary Norris. Student achievement would have suffered and we would have had a divided board. She’s a brilliant, well-educated woman. There’s no ego there. I absolutely believe that it’s already made a change. I don’t feel the tension I felt a month ago.
A school board member called Lori White a “healer.” Why have we hired reformers [four in the past 13 years] followed by healers?
We learned so much from Gary Norris. We never could have achieved what we achieved in the past four years with someone who was maintaining the status quo. Sometimes you have to step back and take a breath. Lori might go a bit more slowly than Dr. Norris, in part because of budget cuts.
Enrollment had peaked at nearly 43,000 students before declining last year. How are you addressing the decline?
The previous five years we were growing at a rate of 1,200 students a year. Last year was the first year we had a decrease of 400 students. We watched the number of classrooms, we watched the hiring of personnel, we didn’t expand. We are going to lose more students. With the foreclosure rates, additional families will move out.
Yet you are fast-tracking new construction at
Venice High, Booker High, SCTI and the technical schools.
We’re going to bond about $300 million through COPS [certificates of participation]. We can borrow at less than 5 percent, but construction costs will go up 5 percent [by waiting to build], so the interest will almost be a wash.
The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission has proposed replacing property tax funding for education with a sales tax increase and other revenue. What’s your position?
It will only cover half of what’s needed, and the legislature promises to hold harmless the school districts for the other half. When Gov. Crist was lobbying for Amendment 1, he said education would be held harmless. I don’t consider cutting $32 million holding school districts harmless.—Kim Cartlidge