WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A fired Palm Beach County educator plans to appeal to get her job back.
Cindy Lucia is the former athletic director at Olympic Heights Community High School in west Boca Raton. She was accused of stealing at least $16,000 in coaching supplements for sports she didn't actually coach at the school.
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"I stand before you and I am still fighting for a job that's been my whole life," an emotional Lucia told Palm Beach County School Board members Wednesday night, pleading to keep her job in the district.
The former athletic director was criminally charged with grand theft and official misconduct in 2021.
"I cannot express to you the emotional rollercoaster I've been put on, just because I was compensated as directed and with approval from my principal," Lucia said.
Lucia's arrest report said she took at least $16,000 in coaching supplements for sports she didn't actually coach at Olympic Heights High School. She claimed she had permission.
"I was instructed by Dave Clark, the principal, to submit my name under three coaching supplements to be compensated for the activities position since there was not a supplement from the district for that position," Lucia told board members.
A jury on Sept. 15 found Lucia not guilty of the charges.
But the school district's investigation is something separate. The board on Wednesday still found the "misappropriation of funds for duties not performed" was grounds for termination.
"In speaking to the staff, there was one staff member who wanted or was coaching, but was told he couldn't receive the supplement because the athletic director had taken the supplement, even though he was actually coaching," Teresa Michael, the school district's inspector general, said Wednesday.
"There were people who were entitled to the money and didn't get it because of the athletic director," school board Chairman Frank Barbieri added. "That is stealing from another employee, and she doesn't deserve to keep her job if she did that."
The board approved Lucia's firing 4-3.
"She didn't take anything from anyone," said Michael Salnick, Lucia's attorney. "That was a misconception of the facts. Of course, at a school board meeting, I can't stand up and say, objection."
Salnick said they will appeal Lucia's termination.
"There were employees who could not receive these supplements because Ms. Lucia was claiming them, and therefore she was taking the opportunity from others. How do you respond to that?" WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Salnick on Thursday.
"Absolutely, totally untrue," Salnick responded. "The principal is the one who has to approve the supplements. Ms. Lucia put in for the very supplements that her former principal told her to put in for."
Lucia was reassigned to Jupiter Farms Elementary School during the investigation.
WPTV asked to speak to Lucia directly on Thursday, but she declined.
"If there was a thing in the law that would say, innocent, instead of not guilty, it would be Cindy Lucia. Because she didn't do anything wrong," Salnick said.