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East County Wednesday, May 8, 2019 1 year ago

School District of Manatee County superintendent settles with State Department of Education

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders puts accusations about inflating graduation rates in the past.
by: Andrew Atkins Staff Writer

Six months after the Florida Department of Education accused Cynthia Saunders, then the School District of Manatee County's acting superintendent, of two statute violations and five rules violates, the case has been put to rest with a settlement.

The Department of Education reprimanded Saunders for her role in inflating graduation rates for the district between 2014 and 2016 and will place her on two years of probation with a fine of $750 if the settlement is approved by the Education Practices Commission.

In the agreement Saunders, who is now the district's superintendent, neither admitted or denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement, Saunders said that while she was confident she would have been cleared of any wrongdoing, she felt it best to conclude the matter to move the district forward. 

“I am deeply thankful and grateful for the School Board that has stood behind me, the employees of the District and the community that have and continue to believe in me,” Saunders said in her statement. “I will continue to focus my full attention on the operations and the mission of the district to provide the best possible education for all Manatee County students.”

Saunders was accused of instructing district staff members to code school withdrawals as moving to homeschooling even when that was not the case. Formal charges were made Dec. 6 and included filing fraudulent information, using coercive means or promised special treatment to influence professional judgements of colleagues and failure to maintain honesty in all professional dealings.

She was facing penalties that included the possible permanent revocation of her Florida Educator Certificate.

In the statement, the Department of Education noted, "In and around 2014 to 2016, (Cynthia Saunders), in her supervisory and administrative position, fraudulently inflated graduation rates for her district by instructing subordinate district employees to improperly code student withdrawals. Respondent improperly instructed district employees to code withdrawing students as "withdrawn to home education" when neither the students nor the students' parents had any intention of home schooling. The improper coding of students' withdrawals caused the district's graduation rates to be incorrectly reflected as above average for the state."

The complaint noted that during 2014-2015, only six of 121 withdrawing students were coded properly, causing the district's graduation rate to be improperly reflected.

The School District of Manatee County issued the following response, "The allegations of the Office of Inspector General and Department of Education that the district purposely and willingly sought to enhance graduation rates is unsupported by any empirical evidence. At no time did Ms. Saunders direct staff to inflate graduation rates and improperly code students. The record clearly shows the opposite of any intent to purposefully skew numbers. No one, including the Office of Inspector General or DOE, has any basis for that accusation."



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