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Sarasota News Leader January 10, 2014 Page 31 Having covered education for three years at the Florida Legislature, Thomson continued, "I can assure you the [Sarasota County] School Board doesn't really have a clue how to, either. You have to rely on Lori and her staff to figure it out …" Thomson insisted that if the referendum does not win approval for the fourth time on March 25, the district would not lose its high ranking in the state. A WELL-RUN DISTRICT DeLeo explained to the audience that when MGT America Inc., an independent consulting firm, reviewed district programs a couple of years ago, its team said the Sarasota district was one of the best-run it had studied in the United States. He pointed out that local foundations and "very generous" benefactors paid for the undertaking. The firm handles such reviews "in a very rigorous way," he added. In its findings, DeLeo continued, MGT America's team said the Sarasota system's "morale and performance are unusually high, including innovative practices …" Beverly Girard, director of food and nutrition services for the Sarasota County Schools, says she has seen higher and higher percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals since the recession hit. Photo by Scott Proffitt Since the Great Recession began in 2007, she pointed out, the district has reduced its budget by 30 percent — about $124 million — and cut more than 600 positions. "But we are one of those districts that have been able Typically, the report noted, a school district to sustain programs because of referendum of the same size would earn 50 commenda- dollars." tions during an MGT review. Sarasota won 73, When Thaxton asked DeLeo about the makeup DeLeo told the audience. of the district Financial Advisory Committee The fact that voters have supported the spe- charged with fiscal oversight, DeLeo explained cial tax in referenda held every four years that the members are community business since 2002 reflects their partnership with the leaders, professional people and represendistrict in pursuit of excellence, White added. tatives of arts groups. Among them is Eric "This referendum is a way of adding value to Robinson, a CPA who is the former chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party, and the school district …"

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