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A deal is reached to end Sarasota school superintendent Asplen's contract

Superintendent Brennan Asplen speaks at the school board's special meeting
Sarasota County Schools
Superintendent Brennan Asplen speaks at the school board's special meeting

The deal comes after two new school board members were sworn in, creating a 4-1 conservative majority.

Sarasota School Board members will vote next week to end the contract of Superintendent Brennan Asplen.

The board finalized terms this week -- which Asplen agreed to -- that would offer him severance pay of 32 weeks, plus legal and moving expenses. He would also stay on as a consultant for an interim superintendent for 12 weeks.

The board will also vote on appointing a temporary replacement at their Dec. 13 regular meeting.

Asplen's wife - who also works for the school system - will also step down in January.

Board members said at their most recent meeting that change was needed at the top - mostly complaining about Asplen's leadership.

He spent 30 minutes seeking to refute their reasoning, describing a toxic work environment rife with politics since even before a new conservative majority was elected in August.

"You know, we have a great plan in place and we're moving forward and we're doing really good things," he told the board members. "But to just sit there and say that it's not happening the way you want it to happen is because of me - that's kind of ridiculous. Because you've been here for a long time doing it."

Asplen earned two evaluations with a score of "highly effective" since he was hired in 2020.

In public comments during the meeting where Asplen's fate was decided, Sheila Weiss wondered why the vote to fire him took place right after a new school board was installed. Weiss oversaw the board's communications and community relations department for a decade.

"I question whether this decision is really independent of partisan politics," Weiss said, "since many school districts around the country with new conservative board members like you are doing the exact same thing. They are firing the superintendent and other staff members."

A motion to hold a special meeting to fire Asplen came on Nov. 22, immediately after two new members were sworn in. Robyn Marinelli and Tim Enos were sworn in, joining fellow conservatives Karen Rose and Bridget Ziegler.

Those four were in the majority of a 4-1 vote to end Asplen's contract.

Returning board member Rose made that motion.

"Overall, reading, science, and math achievement has not shown even minimal growth. That's my focus area, academic achievement," said Rose, who has worked for the school district for 27 years.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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