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'This is about politics,' says Sarasota superintendent after board approves his exit

 Brennan Asplen led the Sarasota school district from August 2020.
Sarasota County Schools
Brennan Asplen led the Sarasota school district from August 2020.

The Sarasota County School Board formally cut ties with its superintendent Tuesday evening, and named an acting leader from within the district.

Despite hearing words of support from dozens of parents and teachers during public comment, the board's new conservative majority voted 4 to 1 to accept a separation agreement with Brennan Asplen, negotiated between lawyers and the school board.

The deal includes 32 weeks of severance, which will cost the district at least $170,000.

Tom Edwards, the sole moderate on the board, made a motion to keep Asplen, but no one seconded it. After the vote, Edwards said, "We tried."

"This is not in the best interest of the students," Edwards added.

 Tom Edwards is currently the only liberal on the Sarasota school board
Tom Edwards is currently the only liberal on the Sarasota school board

In his final comments, Asplen said he was shocked by the board's call to fire him just seven minutes after they were sworn in on Nov. 22, and complained about the highly politicized atmosphere in Sarasota and at school boards across the country.

"Some of the social media posts that I have seen recently and were sent to me, I believe that everyone in our district should hear regarding the political tactics impacting education — not only in our county, but statewide," Asplen said.

"This is about politics, people."

Asplen, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, cited one social media post from Florida state representative Randy Fine, also a Republican.

"And it's a picture of me, and a picture of another superintendent and a picture of Governor DeSantis. And State Representative Fine says 'the whacking of our superintendent is making national news, and we are just getting started.' So that's pretty political."

He went on to quote a Florida Politics article that school board chair Ziegler's husband, Christian, vice chair of the Republican Party in Florida, recently shared online.

"He posted: 'Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers. Winners: Honorable mention: Bridget Ziegler. The Sarasota County School Board Chair and Moms for Liberty co-founder can soon claim the scalp of Sarasota County Superintendent Brennan Asplen, as the School Board and Asplen are negotiating a resignation package following last month’s election results.'

The article was not written by Christian Ziegler, but Asplen questioned why he would post it on his social media page.

"First question is, as the school board chair, Miss Ziegler referenced in this post. Do you feel that statements with violent vitriol like 'you will be claiming my scalp' are in keeping with our school district vision of civility and position on bullying?

"And my second question is as the proud co-founder of Moms for Liberty, can you please share with the community what the playbook is and where we may find a copy? So we can all understand clearly and transparently? I would appreciate that," Asplen said.

 Bridget Ziegler was named chair of the school board last month
Bridget Ziegler was named chair of the school board last month

"First of all, I speak for myself. My husband can answer those questions separately," said Ziegler.

"Secondly, I find this is a perfect demonstration of your inability to own the transparency pieces," she said.

Asplen also refuted accusations of nepotism that were lobbed at him during the public comment period, saying he and his wife met with the school board attorney before she took a job with the district, to make sure they were in ethical compliance. His wife was also asked to resign.

In response to Asplen's questions, Ziegler said: "I believe that there have been now a multitude of situations, scenarios when the superintendent has been brought forward with opportunities to improve when I brought forward areas of concern.

"And I think that time and time again, there's always a deflection of somewhere else, whether it was that he was a new person here, or that he — or that it is someone else's fault. At the end of the day, stability is very important. I am looking forward to a brighter tomorrow for Sarasota County Schools."

The board said Sarasota's chief academic officer Chris Renouf will lead until an interim superintendent is chosen. A nationwide search is expected.

Copyright 2022 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.
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