Bradenton Herald | by Giuseppe Sabella | June 8, 2021
Superintendent Cynthia Saunders received high marks on a recent evaluation from the School Board. However, some board members disagreed on the purpose for that evaluation, which was tied to incentive pay for the superintendent.
With their five opinions combined, including the one submitted by Scott Hopes before his resignation, the superintendent received an overall rating of “highly effective.” That rating includes a perfect score from James Golden, the board’s vice chair.
Golden awarded the superintendent 4 points — the highest possible rating — for each of the four categories: leadership/management, high-quality instruction, continuous improvement and effective communication.
But the superintendent was not a perfect leader, Golden acknowledged. Pleased with her work, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the score was meant to help Saunders collect the highest incentive pay possible.
“Do I think she’s perfect? No,” Golden said. “Do I think she’s worthy of the maximum incentives that are allowed in her contract? Yes.”
Saunders’ contract allows the School Board to award the superintendent incentive pay worth up to 10% of her annual salary, which currently stands at $204,918, according to information provided by district spokesman Mike Barber.
Based on the recent evaluations, Saunders was entitled to a one-time payment worth 9% of her base salary. That payment was not a recurring boost to her annual pay, Barber confirmed.
Responding to Golden’s comments during Tuesday’s meeting, board member Gina Messenger pointed to the classroom teachers who are greatly affected by performance evaluations.
“I think we need to all be in that boat with them together,” Messenger said.
She went on to agree with Golden about the superintendent’s pay boost, noting that she deserved “every incentive that is in her contract.”
Board members rated Saunders as effective or highly effective in every category, a testament to the board’s confidence in her leadership, Messenger said, echoing the comments in her written evaluation.
“Superintendent Saunders is an asset to the School District of Manatee County,” Messenger wrote. “Under her tenure financial ratings have improved, school grades have risen, and the School District’s academic rating has risen within the state.”
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
The board’s other members offered both praise and critiques for the superintendent.
Charlie Kennedy, the board chair, underscored Manatee’s stable finances and grades before offering several goals for the future.
He started with short-term goals: Figuring out next steps during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting the one-mill tax hike renewed, addressing the ongoing Lincoln Memorial Academy controversy and focusing on cultural competency.
Kennedy also listed diversity, equity and inclusion as a short-term goal, along with team-building for whomever fills the vacant seat left by Hopes.
For long-term goals, Kennedy again listed diversity and inclusion, along with a succession plan for the superintendent, a customer service mindset for the district, an overhaul of the Horizons Academy alternative school, a later start time for schools, and improvements for ESE students.
Mary Foreman, the board’s newest member, praised the superintendent for leading Manatee County schools through a pandemic school year, for bringing unique programs to local campuses, and for improving the district’s transportation system.
Throughout each section, Foreman also listed areas that Saunders could improve on. The overarching theme was a need for cost-saving measures, improved hiring efforts in the district, and stronger communication with both residents and district employees.
“Ms. Saunders has worked tirelessly to improve the efficiency of the district while tackling COVID‐19 matters,” Foreman wrote. “She is creative, dedicated, diplomatic and always professional.”
“The District’s academic performance is disappointing and I remain unconvinced that PeopleSoft is serving our needs,” Foreman continued, referencing the district’s troubled ERP software system. “But I am confident that Ms. Saunders will continue to be an effective superintendent.”
And Hopes, who now works as the county administrator for Manatee County government, submitted an evaluation before his resignation on June 2.
Hopes said the superintendent did an excellent job in leading the school district through COVID-19 fears and uncertainty. He also praised Saunders for improving student transportation and for maintaining healthy finances.
Going forward, she could work on recruiting for needed positions and delegating more responsibilities to her leadership team, Hopes wrote.
“The Superintendent continues to exceed my expectations as the leader of our school district,” Hopes’ evaluation reads. “She has met each challenge with drive and determination, and she consistently overcomes the obstacles she and the District encounters.”
“As she moves towards the end of her career in public education and looks forward to retirement in the years to come, she should begin to focus on both succession planning and preparing the District for that transition,” Hopes wrote.