SARASOTA, Fla. — At a recent school board workshop in Sarasota, board chair Bridget Ziegler brought up the idea of hiring a board consultant.
“I became aware of this service, and I wanted to bring it forward,” she said, adding her reasoning is, “to have someone help us with certain things when it comes to keeping us away from the fire.” Ziegler said this in reference to the confusion many school districts have faced in implementing new conservative policies handed down from the state, including textbook purchases and library book additions.
The Sarasota County school board, which flipped from predominantly democratic members to republican in August, has become known for its fiery meetings, board bickering, and politically-charged public feuds.
“It’s been distraction after distraction and I don’t want to continue that,” Ziegler said before proposing the board look into hiring a company called Vermilion Education.
If you’ve never heard of them, you’re not alone.
“Vermilion Education helps school boards ensure an accurate and high-quality education for their students,” its website stated.
With principles that tout “transparency” and how “students should not be used by political parties or ideologies,” it may sound like just what many drama-ridden school boards in Florida could use. That is until you take a closer look at the company’s founder.
Turns out the three-month-old company which vaguely described services ranging from guidance and communication to audits, was founded in Hillsdale, Michigan.
Its listed resident agent is Jordan Adams, a former civic education specialist at Hillsdale College, the same conservative Christian college the DeSantis administration wants to recreate at Sarasota’s New College. Hillsdale has widely been criticized for pushing a biased and politically driven curriculum to its students.
In fact, Adams’ resume included creating Hillsdale’s controversial 1776 curriculum, which, critics said, promoted politically conservative views of American History. Adams also helped Hillsdale open publicly funded classical education charter schools, including several in Florida.
Last year, Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone also discovered Adams’ served as one of Florida’s textbook reviewers who examined math textbooks for prohibited topics, including critical race theory.
When we asked Ziegler if Adams’ history of promoting conservative values may appear to some as a conflict as a school board consultant, Ziegler responded, “I think my focus again, whether it looks a way or not, is about getting the distractions out and making sure our instructional material for all of our students is appropriate and aligned with not only the standards but to the expectations of our families,” she said.
Ziegler, an original founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty and whose husband was recently appointed Chair of Florida’s Republican Party, wouldn’t say exactly how she heard of Vermilion.
“Well, I work in education circles and certainly it was brought to my attention,” Ziegler said without offering any additional details.
While she dismissed concerns that hiring the company could be viewed as inviting conservative Christian values into Florida public schools, Ziegler does see classical education as an opportunity for all students here.
“Why is it a bad idea to either consider how we can take pieces of that which would align into our mission as a public education institution and that wouldn’t imply any indoctrination of anyone’s ideology but get back to the core classical components of academics. I think it’s worth looking into and it sounds like the board also agrees,” she said.
“Bringing this into Sarasota schools at this time, I think this is a huge mistake,” said board member Tom Edwards. Edwards is the board’s only Democrat and was recently targeted by Governor DeSantis and Florida’s GOP as one of Florida’s liberal school board members the Governor wants to see defeated in the next election.
Edwards believed Vermilion’s Hillsdale ties will further divide a school board already at odds.
“Frankly, I was waiting for something like this,” he said.
Those in favor of Vermilion Education believe it can ease those tensions, but that remains unclear. And even those who are convinced its services can help can’t quite explain how.
“Again, this is a very beginning early discussion, so I’m all done, thank you,” said Ziegler before ending our interview.
Despite repeated calls and emails, as of Friday afternoon, Jordan Adams nor anyone from Vermilion Education has responded to our inquiries.
Vermilion is defined as a color- a bright, vivid shade of red.