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Manatee Offers Embattled Interim Superintendent Long-Term Contract

Manatee County school superintendent Cynthia Saunders

The interim school superintendent in Manatee County has been offered a long-term contract.

The deal follows two months of postponement after the Florida Department of Education issued a report accusing Cynthia Saunders of manipulating data to improve graduation rates.

The Manatee County School Board debated Saunders' contract Tuesday afternoon. Board member Charlie Kennedy expressed concern over negative community reaction. He suggested delaying the vote until April, but former board chair Scott Hopes disagreed.

"The five of us bear the sole responsibility of ensuring the stability, viability and progress of this organization," said Hopes. "This is why we're in the difficult positions that we chose to get elected to."

Saunders is accused by the state of directing subordinates to code high school dropouts as home school transfers in 2015 and 2016.

After details of the report came out, a school district lawyer issued a statement rebutting the claims against Saunders, saying they were "based upon surmise and speculation."

According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Saunders filed an appeal in December to the charges and has requested a settlement option with a formal hearing. It will likely not go before a judge for a settlement hearing until later this spring.

Board Chair Dave Miner, Hopes and James Golden voted in favor of offering Saunders a contract. Vice-Chair Gina Messenger and Kennedy were opposed.

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