Discussion looms over contract for superintendent
With accusations pending by the Florida Department of Education that interim Superintendent Cynthia Saunders has violated state statutes and rules, the School District of Manatee County board will consider offering Saunders a three-year contract Feb. 12.
Board member Charlie Kennedy said he supports Saunders, but believes the board should delay a decision until the state renders a final decision.
Board member Gina Messenger said she wants to hear more from the public and other board members before she makes up her mind.
Two of the five board members, Scott Hopes and Chairman Dave Miner, said Saunders should be hired immediately.
Hopes said the administrative complaint filed against Saunders is incorrect, and the issue identified was immediately corrected. He said he is focused on doing what’s best for the district, not on how the public sees the situation.
“We are responsible for making decisions related to the operation, financing and leadership based on what is the right thing to do for the district,” Hopes said.
Hopes said the agreement being considered has an easy-out for the district should the findings against Saunders’ be substantiated. She could be terminated immediately with cause or with 90 days notice without cause.
Hopes said the district needs to hire 300 educators to staff new schools, fill top-level administrative positions and address other needs that make hiring Saunders immediately in the district’s “best interest … when we have no one to take her place.”
“I’m quite comfortable moving forward,” Hopes said, noting he met with Florida Department of Education officials to get firsthand knowledge of the facts. “I’ve not heard anything to give me pause.”
Preserve parcels combined into one
Manatee County commissioners accepted a special warranty deed Jan. 15 from the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast Inc. for an 11.6-acre property at 6820 93rd St. E., Bradenton.
The parcel, the homestead for the late Carl Bergstresser, now will be combined with a roughly 33-acre property Manatee County purchased last year from Neal Land Ventures. Combined, the properties, which have a conservation easement to prevent them from being developed, create a roughly 44-acre preserve along the Braden River. It is located at the western end of Clubhouse Drive, between the River Club and Braden Woods communities.
“Now, it’s consolidated to a preserve we can effectively manage,” Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said.
The county soon will begin creating trails, installing fencing and adding gates that will limit park access to sunrise to sunset. Hunsicker said he expects trails to open by the end of summer.
Manatee County will host a meeting about the future preserve at 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at Linger Lodge Restaurant, 7205 85th St. Court E., Bradenton. Topics will include wildfire mitigation, the treatment of invasive, exotic plants and the preliminary timeline for opening the preserve.
For information, contact Ray Vinson at [email protected].
County begins search for new administrator
Manatee County commissioners plan to temporarily appoint Deputy County Administrator Cheri Coryea to the county’s top-level post when Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker retires March 1. Coryea will serve in an interim position as the commission conducts a search for a new administrator.
Coryea has worked for the county for 26 years and assumed her role as deputy county administrator in December 2017.
Commissioners must amend an existing policy that requires the county’s leader to have a bachelor’s degree to make Coryea’s appointment official.
Coryea said she left school one semester early to care for a family member and never finished her degree, she said.
“I’ve been working ever since,” she said.
The policy change will allow an existing county employee serving in a deputy administrator position to take the administrator post for up to one year. It does not waive the degree requirement for a permanent administrator.
The board is expected to vote on the policy change and Coryea’s appointment at its Feb. 12 meeting.
During their discussions Jan. 22, commissioners were divided about whether a college degree is needed for such a role, with Commissioners Carol Whitmore, Reggie Bellamy and Priscilla Whisenant Trace noting experience is often the best education.
“The experience you gather as a person doing a job ... is also worth consideration,” Trace said.
Bellamy said, “My concern about the college level is not at a high level. My concern is job performance and having the ability to keep the team together.”
Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Steve Jonsson and Misty Servia said they preferred having a degree for the top-level post.
Baugh encouraged Coryea to finish her degree so she could apply for the full-time post. She said she supports Coryea and believes she can do the administrator job, but was not willing to remove the educational requirement from the county’s policy.
“Basically what we’re doing is we’re lowering our standards. I think that is very important for a county administrator (to have college degree),” Baugh said. “The administrator is the top position. This is coming from a business sense.”