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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Coal in Superintendent Greene's stocking? The Manatee County graduation scandal heats up

December 11th should have been a great day for Cynthia Saunders, interim superintendent since July 1st of Manatee County (Sarasota). The board there was poised to take away the word interim and give her a nice raise too. The Florida Department of Education however stepped in and blew it all up.

They accused Cynthia Saunders of many troubling offences as they launched an investigation into her and Manatee County’s policies.

The Bradenton Herald reported,

Cynthia Saunders, interim superintendent for the School District of Manatee County, is accused of abusing her power and inflating graduation rates, according to a notice from the Florida Department of Education.
In a letter dated Dec. 6, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said she found probable cause to justify sanctions against Saunders’ educator certificate, citing alleged misconduct between 2014 and 2016.

The state accused Saunders of:

Personal conduct which seriously reduces effectiveness as an employee of the school board, in violation of Florida Statutes.

An offense against the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession, in violation of Florida Statutes.

Intentionally distorting or misrepresenting facts concerning an educational matter in direct or indirect public expression, in violation of Florida Administrative Code.

Using institutional privileges for personal gain or advantage, in violation of Florida Administrative Code.

Failing to maintain honesty in all professional dealings, in violation of Florida Administrative Code.

Using coercive means or promised special treatment to influence professional judgments of colleagues, in violation of Florida Administrative Code.

Submitting fraudulent information on a document in connection with professional activities, in violation of Florida Administrative Code.  

But perhaps however the most damning accusation was that she manipulated the district’s graduation rate.

Right about now you might be asking why should we care about this way up here in Jacksonville, though I think a better question would be why are you just hearing about it. You see Cynthia Saunders was the number two under our current superintendent and all the offenses supposedly happened between 2014 and 2016 when Greene was the superintendent there.

Furthermore, at least on Manatee County school board member thinks if anyone is responsible for what happened, it was Greene. Also from the Bradenton Herald,

Saunders was named interim superintendent after Diana Greene left to become superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in late June…

Earlier in the day, Scott Hopes (Manatee County school board member) said any allegations should be directed at the former superintendent.

“Diana Greene was in charge, not Cynthia Saunders,” Hopes said. “I have every expectation that she’s going to challenge it, and she’ll have her day in court.”

At a recent school board meeting Hopes went even farther saying if Saunders did do anything wrong it was because of misplaced loyalty.

The issue seems to boil down to students at an alternate school who were unlikely to graduate being coded as having dropped out to attend home school where they would not affect the district’s graduation rate. The district has recently blamed a retired assistant principal saying it was shoddy paper work on their behalf that has led to the district’s woes. The employee however has a different take.  

From the Herald-Tribune, “The only word that comes to mind is scapegoat,” said Marshall, 60. “And if you think about it, I am a logical choice. I am retired, so I am no longer associated with the district.”

Greene also believes Mrs. Saunders wasn't involved in any wrong doing saying, "Ms. Saunders is well known as a person of the highest ethics and character. The episode you reference occurred just as I became Superintendent of Manatee. The School Board was fully informed of the miscoding and corrective actions. The internal investigation concluded that Ms. Saunders directed staff to follow an approved process for coding students. I have full confidence in Ms. Saunders and the district’s actions at the time.”

Sometimes when I write about district people I throw in an obligatory, I have been generally pleased with, partly because I don’t want them to write me. It was no fun being called into professionally practices or worse threatened to be sued every few weeks for exercising my first amendment rights, something that happened at a “you just don’t know” pace under superintendent Vitti. The thing is I have genuinely been pretty pleased with Superintendent Green. Now I think she has spent too much time hobnobbing with her new friends at The Jacksonville Public Education Fund rather than rebuilding relationships with staff and communication between the district and teachers continues to be an issue but overall she’s off to a good start, but since I have been pleased I find these accusations all the more troubling.
You see I was pleased when Vitti first got to town too. Though soon after his arrival he would often engage in a lot of the troubling behavior Saunders was accused of. During his tenure fear and intimidation were two of the tools he used most. He didn’t respect teachers and even admitted he had often thought of them as easily replaceable widgets. Then there were accusations of him using questionable means to raise the grades of the schools he was in charge of in Miami that the local media never followed up on. Is any of that starting to sound familiar? Arguably getting those school grades up helped Vitti get his job here, just like arguably Greene being in charge in Manatee as its graduation rate went up did as well.
Right now these are just very troubling and very serious accusations as the state starts its investigation, but at least one Manatee County school board members have already pointed the finger at Green as the person who is really responsible and if the buck doesn’t stop at the top where does it?   
If these allegations prove to be true it’s not really credible to think they happened without Greene knowing about them, unless she was willfully ignorant after imposing her will on her subordinates to "get it done" at any cost. Though even if that wasn’t the case, and there was just a rogue employee it’s still bad management. The thought her number two could carry on in such a way for so long without Greene's knowledge or approval is troubling to say the least.

Either way it’s the responsibility of the local media to let the people of Jacksonville to know, that Greene’s former number two has been accused of some heinous violations and several of her old bosses think it was Greene who was really responsible? These story about the graduation scandal did not break on some underground blog. No, it's front page of the local papers of a large city. The local media is supposed to inform of things like this something, sadly they all to often have failed to do.
Saunders good day may ultimately happen but it doesn’t seem as if it will anytime soon as the investigation is expected to drag on for months and in the meantime we are left with more questions, like what did Green know and when, than answers.

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