MANATEE -- Manatee County's Tim McGonegal announced Wednesday that he will retire as the district's superintendent in February, citing personal reasons for ending a decade-long career in the district.
The announcement came as a surprise but not a shock to school administrators, who have witnessed a toll on a district trying to balance budgets during difficult economic times and improve disappointing performance grades from the state for several schools.
"I think the last four years have been so stressful for everybody in the system, especially the superintendent," school board chairman Harry Kinnan said. "I know some of the challenges that he's had added to his decision."
District spokeswoman Margi Nanney said the superintendent wants to spend more time with his family.
McGonegal, 54, has three children, including two who
attend school in the district. He declined interviews Wednesday.
Officials said McGonegal's February retirement will give the district enough transition time to begin a formal process to find a replacement, which the school board must approve.
Kinnan expects the process to begin with Wayne Blanton, the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, who has worked with the district in hiring past superintendents. Blanton is familiar with the district and has extensive contacts throughout the state.
He will soon hold a workshop for district administrators, which will explain exactly what a search entails -- public meetings, advertising, timelines -- and the different options for starting one.
If the board decides to work with the association, they will begin the process of searching for the best possible candidate, Kinnan said.
If the board decides not to work with the school boards association, they can hire a national firm to do the search or hold one themselves.
Even if the association assists in the search, the decision still remains with the board.
"The final qualifications, the final timeline, the final selection is all how the Manatee school board wants to do it," Blanton said.
Blanton predicts 35 to 45 qualified applicants will surface for a district of Manatee County's size if a national search is performed.
McGonegal's decision to retire comes just a few months after the board voted to extend his contract to 2014, a move that was criticized by two school board candidates who have publicly opposed this year's budget.
McGonegal also has had a tense relationship with some current board members. The board has often divided on issues, splitting votes 3-2 when members Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter opposed budget proposals this year.
Still, Kinnan, who is not seeking re-election when his term ends in November, did not believe that specific criticism contributed to McGonegal's retirement, even in light of a new board member this fall.
"All superintendents have been subjected to scrutiny," said Kinnan.
Still, the timing of McGonegal's retirement did not go unnoticed.
The next superintendent will come into the district not only as it prepares to begin the budget process for the 2013-14 school year, but as it decides whether it wants to keep the board attorney position in-house after current district attorney John Bowen's July retirement. The candidate will also have the important task of boosting staff morale, continuing efforts to improve finances and bringing schools up to new standards set by the state, Kinnan said.
Officials said the decision on timing was McGonegal's to make.
"For Dr. McGonegal, this is the time," Nanney said.
Bob Gause, District 4 school board member, said McGonegal has been experiencing migrane-like headaches for several weeks, but has not been able to nail down the cause.
"I've been a little worried this might be coming," Gause said. "There is no question that his position is a high-stress position."
He said McGonegal had not mentioned retirement to him.
Gause praised McGonegal for protecting students in times of declining revenue and said the superintendent has helped keep district spending under control, protect student programs and hold district officials accountable.
Regardless of what direction a school board without current chairman Kinnan and superintendent McGonegal takes, Gause said, the future board needs to collaborate.
"You need to have five board members and a superintendent working toward a common goal," Gause said.
District 3 school board member Julie Aranibar said she was not shocked by the news, either.
"It's a very stressful time in the district," Aranibar said. "He has every right to make a decision to retire and enjoy his family."
When the superintendent retires, by policy, he will be entitled to his Florida Retirement System benefits which are calculated based on his years of service within the system. He also, by contract, will receive all of his unused vacation pay and a percentage of his sick time for the time he has worked in this district. At this time, Nanney did not know how much McGonegal might receive.
Currently, McGonegal's salary is $171,101. The salary of his successor will be determined by the board.
McGonegal has worked in the district for the last decade. Before, he worked in the Highlands County district.
He became Manatee County's assistant director of finance in 2002, and director in June 2004. He later became assistant superintendent of business services before taking the place of former superintendent Roger Dearing in 2009, when Dearing left the district to become the executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association.
"Dr. McGonegal has given his heart and soul to this district," Kinnan said, "and has worked very, very hard on behalf of the children of Manatee County."
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.