Rick Mills ready to report for duty as new superintendent of Manatee schools

eearl@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2013 

0213_BRLO_superintendent_Mills

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 -- Rick Mills has a reputation for getting things done. Warm and fuzzy, not so much.

"Mills was the strongest candidate to build an organization and put structure in place," said Manatee School Board Chair Karen Carpenter on Thursday, a day after the school board voted 4-1 to hire him as the superintendent of schools. "He has across-the-board experience and [expects] performance accountability for staff."

Mills said he is ready to step into his new role as superintendent. "I am ecstatic about the opportunity to lead education for children in Manatee County," said Mills. Although his contract is still pending, he announced Thursday that he has no plans of declining.

At Wednesday's meeting, the original vote was 3-2 for Mills, with board members Dave "Watchdog" Miner and Barbara Harvey voting for another candidate. Miner later made a motion to make the vote unanimous in a show of support for Mills. But when the vote was taken, Harvey refused to change her ballot.

Mills has been described by people who watched and participated in interviews last week as data-driven, knowledgeable about technology and financially responsible. Carpenter, who has spent time in the Minneapolis school district working with a coalition against child abuse, described the district as data-oriented, strategic, and sophisticated in its initiatives. She and the other board members are hoping that Mills will bring that to Manatee County.

"Mills is known for his military style approach that a lot of school people are not used to, which rubbed some people the wrong way in the district where he is now," said Steve Brandt, the schools reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Mills, however, said his former staff would give a completely different perspective.

The Herald attempted to contact those staff members in Minnesota but calls and emails were not returned.

On the night of the school board vote, some community members, district staff, and students said they were put off by Mills' military experience and potential top-down leadership style.

"I would encourage them to look at my performance, track record and outcomes," Mills said.

The Citizens Advisory Group was also worried about Mills' lack of classroom experience.

"I plan to put an evaluation system in place and provide cognitive and constructive learning approaches. I am also confident in my ability to put a leadership team in place," Mills said. He added that while he has not taught K-12, he taught at West Point and has spent time in classrooms as an administrator.

Mills is also a finalist in the search for a superintendent of the Plymouth-Canton school district in the suburbs of Detroit. Mills said he was open when it came to looking for potential opportunities to be a superintendent.

"Now I have no intentions to pursue any other opportunity," Mills said, although he said leaving Minnesota will be bittersweet.

In terms of putting Manatee district back on its feet financially, Mills says he feels it is too soon to have a specific plan of action.

"I want to look at what was successful for the CFO, re-examine the audit and fiscal tools, and put structure in place after comparing Minneapolis to here," Mills said.

Mills worked as a district administrator in Chicago public schools before Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson hired him.

He was chosen to be the deputy superintendent but was named chief executive officer after it was discovered that he had not yet earned the license required in Minnesota to serve as a superintendent.

Without a license, Mills was not able to serve as acting superintendent in Johnson's absence.

Mills got his license through an alternative route in January after submitting a portfolio, attending a full year of superintendent preparation through Minnesota State University, and interviewing before a panel.

It isn't necessary to have a licence to serve as superintendent in Florida.

Mills said he was attracted to Manatee County after spending four years in Tampa working for the U.S. Central Command. He said that he has retired friends in the area. His brother lives in Plant City.

Carpenter met with school board attorney John Bowen Thursday afternoon to discuss Mills' contract, and she will send a draft to the school board as soon as it is ready. The draft of the contract will also be posted on the school board website, hopefully early next week, said Carpenter.

"The contract will need to be explicit in performance expectations without being micro-managing," Carpenter said.

Mills' salary will be between $170,000 and $190,000 and, like the contract, will need to be approved by the school board.

Board members plan to discuss both the contract and salary at their meeting at 5:45 p.m. Monday.

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