Bradenton Herald | By Jessica de Leon | March 23, 2022
More than five years later, the Manatee County School District superintendent is being disciplined for inflating graduation rates and the NAACP is calling for her resignation.
She had been accused of directing her staff to improperly code dropout students between 2014 and 2016.
In an order dated March 8, the Education Practices Commission accepted a settlement agreement between Cynthia Saunders and the The Florida Department of Education to resolve the pending case.
As part of that settlement, Saunders will have a letter of reprimand placed in her certificate file with the DOE and in her personnel file with the school district.
She will also be fined $2,000, required to take two three-hour college courses in areas of education ethics and at-risk-students.
As superintendent, Saunders’ job does not require her to have a teaching certificate. However, should Saunders return a position that requires her to have a teaching certificate, the order in this case calls for her to serve two years of professional probation.
As part of that probation, Saunders would have pay a yearly fee $150 for the cost of her monitoring. That probation would also require her not to violate any laws and abide by rules and regulations set by the school district, school and state board.
Saunders — who has previously defended herself — did not admit nor deny wrongdoing as part of the settlement, signed by Saunders on Dec. 10.
“The Commission, composed of teachers, administrators, parents, law enforcement officials, former school board members and former superintendents, believes that educators must exercise a measure of leadership beyond reproach,” that letter of reprimand states. “The Commission cannot condone any act that bears negatively on the profession’s integrity, nor can the public who employ us.”
In October 2019, The Education Practices Commission rejected her initial settlement agreement citing that the proposed sanctions were not severe enough.
In a statement to the Bradenton Herald on Wednesday, Saunders called the settlement agreement bittersweet.
“One of the lessons I have learned through this experience is that I could have done a better job of implementing changes upon entering a new school district, different from the one I previously served,” she said. “Ultimately, the lessons I have learned taught me a lot about myself and leadership that has served me well in my current position.”
CALLS FOR RESIGNATION
Now the Manatee County NAACP is condemning her behavior and practices, while calling for her resignation, then-President Robert Powell announced in a press release last week.
“Mrs. Saunders blatantly and intentionally inflated the District’s graduation rates in 2014-15 by placing students in the home education program, did not receive parental consent, and instructed subordinates to inaccurately code records to remove the non-performing student. The District should never tolerate, accept, or promote this type of behavior,” Powell said in the statement. “Where are the 112 students who were not homeschooled? Did they graduate? Will the School Board take the appropriate action to terminate her employment?”
The commission concluded her actions were fraudulent, discriminatory and illegal and could have significantly impact those students, the NAACP president said.
“We are demanding that Mrs. Saunders resign her position as Superintendent. Mrs. Saunders violated the 14th Amendment rights of those students and the inaction by the school board shows that they do not value educating students from marginalized communities. The board was negligent in not hiring a qualified superintendent,” Powell added.
On Monday — days after calling for Saunders’ resignation — Powell resigned from his position as president of Manatee County NAACP.