Rick Mills of Minnesota named new superintendent of Manatee County Schools

eearl@bradenton.comFebruary 20, 2013 

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Rick Mills is a candidate for Manatee County Schools Superintendent. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Manatee school board member Dave “Watchdog” Miner made a motion Wednesday night for a unanimous vote naming Rick Mills as the new superintendent. This story has been corrected.

MANATEE -- The Manatee County School Board chose Rick Mills, a school district official in Minneapolis, to be the next superintendent Wednesday.

Mills is currently the Minneapolis Public School District's chief executive officer.

In the initial vote, school board members Julie Aranibar, Bob Gause, and school board chair Karen Carpenter voted in favor of Mills.

School board members Dave "Watchdog" Miner and Barbara Harvey voted in favor of Diana Greene, the deputy superintendent for instruction and curriculum in Marion County.

After the results were announced, Miner made a motion that the vote be unanimous. The results were 4-1, with only Harvey voting no. Mills' appointment is contingent on his acceptance of the pending contract.

Contacted after the vote, Mills told the Herald his expectations are to build consensus among board members and form a highly effective, synchronized team.

"All roads lead to students and student achievement," he said.

He added he is working out an exit strategy with senior staff and the superintendent in Minneapolis and is ready and willing to accept the job as soon as the contract can be negotiated.

Mills said his 100-day entry plan is framed around getting to Manatee County and allowing himself a transition and planning period to build relationships with stakeholders and the school board.

The school board has been searching for a superintendent since Tim McGonegal resigned in September shortly after the announcement of a multimillion-dollar deficit, with nothing in the reserve. The announcement, first made to Gause and then immediately released to the rest of the board, shocked the members. The school board is looking for someone who can help the board recover from the deficit and who will be straightforward with finance from the start.

After two long days of intensive interview sessions last week, board members said they felt prepared to cast their votes.

Before the vote, the school board accepted comments from participating groups such as the Citizens Advisory Group and the Manatee Education Association. The board also accepted public comments.

Pat Barber, President of the Manatee Education Association, identified experience, positive labor relations and support of employees, a systemic approach to finances, and the ability to create and maintain credibility, as non-negotiable traits of the next superintendent.

Linda Schaich, who ran for school board in November, said Manatee County is lacking proper systems and procedures and said Mills has what it takes to set up a cohesive team.

"His section (in Minneapolis) is the highest performing in the area," Schaich said. "There was only a 1 percent variance in his budget, and he increased school attendance by 15 percent."

The Citizens Advisory Group saw Mills as a financially responsible candidate with the ability to perform major turn-arounds as he did in his home state of Minnesota. As the only non-Floridian candidate, the group also said he would be able to collaborate and create positive change in the Manatee County culture. The group had previously referred to Mills as a "game changer."

"He is strong on process and would separate his academic plan from his strategic plan," said Citizens Advisory Group chair Richard Conard. "Mills is structured, objective and exceedingly professional."

Conard did admit that Mills is not "warm and fuzzy," and some saw his military background as a potential weakness.

Gary Holbrook, who represented district staff and administrators, said that he personally felt some of Mills' interviews were polarizing.

Some comments from the public suggested that too much emphasis was placed on the budget and financial process, and that burden should be placed on the CFO, who some citizens said "should be taking care of it." Even board member Harvey has expressed her desire to "move on from the budget issue."

Mills disagreed.

"We need the right people in the right seats to perform monthly financial reviews and to layout the agenda around the budget process," said Mills in his interviews. He also suggested a five-year extensive "what if" plan so that the district may be better prepared.

Out of eight public comments, seven were in favor of Greene.

The school board had received petitions in support of Greene from the Democratic Black Caucus, NAACP and other community groups, such as churches.

While all finalists were described as potentially strong candidates, the board had to look at the strengths and weaknesses presented in each.

The other finalists were:

n Kathryn LeRoy, the Duval County Public Schools Director;

n Diana Greene, the deputy superintendent for instruction and curriculum in Marion County;

n Constance Jones, the Chief Academic Officer at the School District of Lee County;

n Pamela Stewart, the K-12 Chancellor of Public Schools at the Florida Department of Education;

n John Carvelli, former Port St. Lucie school board member and principal of Pierce Hammock Elementary in Palm Beach County.

The school board is still working out the contract that Mills will need to accept.

"I don't want to be in position where the contract is based on a knee-jerk reaction; I want to maintain trust," Carpenter said. However, she still acknowledged that the board would have high, explicit expectations for Mills.

"In the last year or so, I have seen a lot of turnover," Aranibar said. "The next superintendent will not just run an academic or financial program; they have to rebuild the house."

Carpenter will meet with school board attorney John Bowen today at 4 p.m. to work out details of the contract and compose a first draft.

The salary for Mills was not yet announced.

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