Mary Cantrell never missed a school board meeting, be it rain, shine or bone marrow cancer.
Few people knew the Manatee County school board member was sick, but clearly something was wrong. She rarely contributed anything of substance, hardly ever spoke and always looked pale and gaunt.
Because she would get so cold, she had to have a space heater underneath her seat on the dais. No one ever saw it.
This was in 2015, during a critical juncture when the district was in turmoil (yeah, I know, when isn’t it, right?). After a pair of rocky years, Superintendent Rick Mills had announced on April 27 that he was retiring effective July 31, which meant Manatee would be spinning its wheels with a lame duck superintendent.
It was Cantrell who floated an idea to let Mills leave with dignity and keep the district moving forward at the same time. She made a motion to give Mills two extra months of salary if he retired a few months earlier. And that’s exactly what happened.
Cantrell was there at a time when she was needed, even though she was so sick that she would die about 10 weeks later. She fulfilled her duty when no one could blame her if she missed meetings.
The Manatee County school district is at another crucial juncture involving its superintendent position. The board must determine whether to remove the "interim" tag from Cynthia Saunders, offer her a hefty contract and make it official. This, despite the fact the Department of Education has alleged Saunders inflated graduation rates from 2014 to 2016.
The board was expected to discuss Saunders’ future at a workshop last week, but the item was removed because Scott Hopes was in Washington, D.C., attending the inauguration of Sen. Rick Scott. The discussion was postponed until Jan. 22.
And now it has been postponed again, this time until Feb. 12. This time because board member James Golden has to be in Tallahassee to train 15 members for a program that is affiliated with his church.
A major decision is facing the board, one that should be discussed as much as possible as soon as possible. This is serious: The person who some think is qualified to lead the school district is also being accused of fraud. Even under normal circumstances school boards do not vote on anything bigger than a new superintendent.
But instead of discussing this, we have board members attending inauguration balls in D.C. and church training in Tallahassee. What’s next? Karaoke night at the VFW? Judging the Hay Bale Decorating Contest at the Manatee County Fair?
Are these guys school board members or aren’t they?
Apparently they will get around to it when they get around to it.
Even board member Gina Messenger pointed out that she was pregnant with her second child last year and still didn’t miss a meeting.
Come to think of it, I remember former Manatee High football coach Joe Kinnan once had surgery to remove cancer and half of his kidney on a Monday and was back for Friday night’s game. Why? People were counting on him.
Former Manatee High assistant coach and teacher Jim Phelan once passed out and fell flat on his face during class. Even after suffering a heart attack, he was back at school the next day. People were counting on him.
Here’s an idea: They should bring Mary Cantrell’s old space heater back to the school board building whenever something important needs to be discussed.
You know, to keep the seats warm until the members get back.
Reach Herald-Tribune columnist Chris Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.