SARASOTA COUNTY — An anti-Common Core Republican who spoke out against the standards at state hearings has turned her focus to the Sarasota County School Board.
“I believe I can make a difference in the local level,” said Helen Wolff, a Siesta Key resident who is challenging Democratic incumbent Shirley Brown for the District 4 seat on the five-member board. “I do believe we need to do better.”
But Brown argues her opponent is turning Common Core into a political issue, as she does not hear complaints from teachers or parents in the district.
“We’re getting this outside static coming in. We need to make sure we don’t allow that to come to our board and cause discord,” said Brown, who is seeking her third term and is the only Democrat on the School Board. “It’s so very important to have strong stable leadership on the board and in the district so we keep focusing on continuing improvement with our students.”
Wolff and Brown will square off in the Aug. 26 election in one of three contested seats for the School Board. School Board races are officially nonpartisan, but this race has a strong party undercurrent.
The District 4 winner — which will be decided outright in the primary — will get a four-year term that pays $38,625 annually.
Four candidates are competing for the District 1 seat — Velton Hodges, Ken Marsh, Paul Schafer and Bridget Ziegler.
Randy McLendon is challenging incumbent Jane Goodwin for the District 5 seat.
The candidates are elected countywide, although they are required to live in the district in which they are running.
The newly chosen board will be faced with hiring a replacement for Superintendent Lori White, who has announced plans to retire in 2017, and deciding when — or if — to place a 1-mill school tax on a future ballot to continue the optional levy.
Wolff, who is from Belgium and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996, worked as an interpreter for the Belgium consulate in New York. She also earned a degree in modern languages and secretarial studies, which taught her skills such as commercial writing, statistics and economics.
She has lived in Siesta Key for 25 years and became a stay-at-home mom, raising two sons who graduated from Sarasota High. Wolff, 55, is married to Andrew Wolff, an orthopedic surgeon.
Wolff said her understanding of finances would be an asset to the district.
“I’m common sense. I’m grounded in practicality. I’m aware of the education changes taking place,” she said.
Earlier this year, Wolff — who has not held political office before — spoke at two Florida State Board of Education hearings on Common Core. Common Core is a national set of standards approved by the Legislature in 2010 that determines what children at each grade level should know in math and language arts.
The standards have been controversial, with critics saying using national standards usurps local control of education. In Florida, the state has approved a slightly changed version and renamed it the Florida Standards.
“Sarasota County, being a top-performing district, can do better than those standards,” said Wolff, adding that regaining local control is an important issue for her.
She has been active in the Tea Party but said she plans to run a nonpartisan campaign.
Contemporary remarks from HELEN: - 30 OCTOBER, 2019
- Election results should be added. I was defeated by a Democrat career politician in August 26, 2014 primary "sudden death" election. In my humble opinion, this rule should be changed! My race had the largest turnout i.e. 50,614 votes in which I obtained 16,991 or 33.57% of the votes. For a nobody who never ran for office before, this was a stunning result! I ran "last minute", I believe a total of 9 weeks, because the other Republican candidate was terminally ill and had to withdraw.
- In addition to signs disappearing at an alarming rate, the opponent's partisans had some additional fun, LOL, see attachment.
I might have had a better chance had the election for this race been in the general November election where many more people vote. In 2018, in a much closer race, another Republican, Karen Rose, attempted to unseat Ms. Brown but was defeated, despite union AND Republican Party support. That School Board race counted 91,392 votes of which Karen Rose garnered 45,287 or 49.55%. Karen Rose will run in another district in 2020 in an attempt to unseat another "dinosaur"... So far, NOBODY has defeated Ms. Brown...
- While I don't regret and appreciated the opportunity to run for "non-partisan" office, I can honestly say I don't have it in me to run for office again. There are patriots who fight and patriots who help the fighters. I will always be part of the latter. One thing I realized is that the political parties have far too much power!
- American FIRST... although Belgian from origin.
- The only word I would change, would be liberals and change it to LEFTISTS. As Dennis Prager states, the biggest fear of liberals should be leftists, not Republicans... Allen Dershowitz said so much... Unfortunately, there are few liberals left!
Growing up, Brown dropped out of high school and started working full-time operating a switchboard at a car dealership to support her mother, a single parent raising six children at home.
“To this day, that was one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t walk down to the aisle and get my diploma and didn’t go to college,” said Brown, 61, who later received her GED as an adult.
Her background made her realize how a child’s home life can impact his education.
“I think it’s important we look at children who are falling through the cracks. Kids who drop out aren’t always the kids who aren’t able to keep up,” Brown said.
Brown was a Florida state representative from 1992 to 2000, experience that she said taught her the complicated nuances of the state funding and makes her a key player on the School Board.
“I sort of am the interpreter between what Tallahassee says and what our finance department says,” Brown said. “It’s good to speak both languages.”
In 2006, she ran and won her first term on the School Board.
“I thought what we needed was some leadership and stability. I thought I could help bring that to the board. And I think I did,” Brown said, adding she is proud of the district’s A-rating and its savings on recent construction projects. “The headlines in the paper are so much different than what they were 10 years ago.”
Brown’s two children attended Sarasota High and her grandchildren are enrolled in Gulfgate Elementary and Pine View School. Her daughter is a kindergarten teacher at Phillippi Shores Elementary. Brown’s husband, Jack, is retired from running the family business, Gulf Coast Collection Bureau.