The School Board of Manatee County voted unanimously during a special meeting Dec. 17 to extend Superintendent Cynthia Saunders' contract for two more years.
"I appreciate the support of the board and all of our employees and the community," Saunders said. "The only way we're successful is if we're working collectively together."
Saunders became superintendent of the School District of Manatee County Feb. 12, 2019, and her contract was set to expire June 30, 2021, if not approved by the board. Now, Saunders is under contract to serve as superintendent until June 30, 2023.
"She has exceeded my expectations," said board member Scott Hopes, who made the motion to extend the superintendent's contract. "Is she perfect? No. Each one of us makes mistakes. Each one of us can name many things we can do differently. What I've seen through this superintendent is the tenacity to stay focused on what's important and that's the education of our children."
Board member Gina Messenger, who did not vote in favor of Saunders' contract in 2019, said working with Saunders and seeing the superintendent address Messenger's concerns has shifted her opinion to vote in favor of the contract extension.
"I truly believe she is absolutely the best option we have, and I think we would be short-sighted to not fully support her and continue to fully support her," Messenger said. "It would be a grave mistake. I truly believe that."
Board member James Golden said he fully supported the extension.
"I can honestly say that in the time I've been here working with the superintendent, I find no reason for us to not extend this contract two years while we prepare to go through the next set of crises that will confront us," Golden said.
Part of the board's conversation regarding the extension surrounded the length of the extension. Foreman wanted the extension to be a year rather than two years.
"One of the concerns I have two years from now is [the superintendent contract] going to become political again," Foreman said.
Board member Charlie Kennedy said two years would give the board enough time to do a "full-blown, immersive, community involved search" while providing stability to the district as it continues to adjust to the pandemic.
"I think it's up to us and our superintendent, who we are now going to stand behind for the next two years, to listen and to solve problems and to make sure we are financially stable and make sure our teachers and staff feel they're respected," Kennedy said.