Detailed employee testimonies accuse Superintendent Cynthia Saunders of inflating graduation rates

Detailed employee testimonies accuse Superintendent Cynthia Saunders of inflating graduation rates

SARASOTA (WWSB) - New details have been released on the Florida Department of Education’s investigation into the Manatee County School District’s Superintendent, Cynthia Saunders.

Saunders is accused of inflating the District’s graduation rates from 2013 to 2015 using incorrect coding.

During its meeting today, the School Board was supposed to be discussing the Superintendent’s contract and this report that includes numerous allegations against her, but they decided to wait until all of the members of the Board returned.

It was the 700 percent increase that raised eyebrows.

The report obtained by the Florida Department of Education indicates that the investigation was launched after the Manatee County School District showed 121 seniors had withdrawn to be home schooled. This number was three times the state average.

According to the Department of Education, then Deputy Superintendent Cynthia Saunders was directing staff to report that students who dropped out of school had instead withdrawn to be home schooled.

“I think it was unintentional,” said from School Board Chair, Dr. Scott Hopes, when the allegations first surfaced. "From what I have seen, I think it was a policy that had been practiced in Marion County.”

In the report, that’s what Saunders told investigators too, saying it’s the policy she was taught in Marion County where she previously worked.

However, numerous testimonies from staff refute those claims.

One woman, the District’s choice program specialist, told investigators the mis-coding was intentional.

In the report, she states parents even complained to her that they felt they had to sign the home education form in order to withdraw their student, even though there was no intention of home schooling the teen.

The employee says when she told Ms. Saunders, nothing was corrected.

Another employee told investigators, “that’s probably how the graduation rate is going up, because they are actually going to take their GED, but we are putting them in home education. But that’s what we were instructed to do.”

Of the 121 students who withdrew, investigators said 115 of them were coded incorrectly.

If the allegations are proven true, Manatee County’s graduation rate in 2013 to 2015 would fall from 35th out of Florida’s 74 school districts, to 49th.

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