Timing wrong for superintendent incentive when lunch prices rising

May 31, 2014 

The optics looked bad side by side.

Manatee County schools Superintendent Rick Mills proposed several changes to his contract, with one being an annual performance salary incentive up to $7,500 based on a "satisfactory evaluation."

At the same time, the school board was considering a nickle increase in school lunch prices for students.

A link couldn't be ignored for a financially challenged school district.

The board approved the meal hike but rejected Mills' contract proposals on a 3-2 vote.

Then, a day after Tuesday's board meeting, yet another audit in a seemingly endless parade of audits came out that uncovered inappropriate shifts of money from a 2009 bond issue in the amount of $6.4 million. Past fiscal mismanagement continues to haunt the district.

The impact of this newly discovered misuse of money on the district's budget is not known yet.

In light of the system's financial pressures -- with state and federal auditors ordering the restoration of $7 million in misspent funds from past budgets -- a merit pay increase proposal for the superintendent would have been best suggested next year or beyond.

Mills did receive outstanding marks on his performance evaluations this year from four of five board members, with the one from Dave "Watchdog" Miner still to be delivered.

The superintendent's original agreement calls for automatic one-year extensions without board action by June 1, so now Mills is under contract until 2017. Mills sought two-year extensions, but that failed to pass board muster, too.

His reasoning -- to provide longer-term stability in district leadership and efforts to recruit, retain a quality team and show his commitment to remaining here -- is sound and resonated with two board members, chair Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter, both of whom voted to approve contract changes.

The district's current condition, though, merited a wait-and-see approach.

On the bright side, standardized test score are rising. Once financial matters are solved, the district's future looks good.

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