MANATEE — Mary Cantrell served as Manatee Technical Institute’s director for 12 years before her retirement last December.
Next week, the Manatee County school board will consider her reappointment to the same post, at a $103,000 annual salary.
There are special requirements for Cantrell’s job, said Manatee schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal.
“She’s best in the state; the board felt like they needed to do this,” he said.
The job was posted publicly and the district received several applications, he said. Cantrell’s came out on top.
Cantrell said she wanted to continue her work at MTI because she felt her job has the ability to make a difference in people’s lives.
There are some projects that she started — such as the controversial construction of an MTI campus that is locked in a legal battle with Manatee County — that she would like to see completed before leaving her post permanently.
“I love what I do. I have the best job in the world,” she said. “I am very, very fortunate to have the ability to come back. ... I am not going to abuse that, I am just grateful to have that opportunity.”
Cantrell retired after 35 years in Florida’s public education system. Prior to being at the helm of MTI, the 65-year-old served as the director of technical and adult education for Osceola County schools. She obtained a doctorate degree from the University of South Florida.
During her tenure, MTI grew from 200 students to more than 800, according to her resume. She also oversaw the construction of the technical school’s fire science, law enforcement and health occupations facilities.
School Board Member Bob Gause said Cantrell is irreplaceable as the district did not have a succession plan in place until more than a year ago.
“I discussed this with the superintendent and we agree, we don’t have a replacement for her at this time,” he said.
Part of the reason is the weakness of Florida’s retirement system, he said.
Under Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), public employees who are 62 or have at least 30 years of service can opt to continue working for up to five years.
There is a loophole that allows these employees to “retire” for 30 days before reapplying for the same job.
More than 9,000 public employees are receiving a pension check and paycheck at the same time.
Almost 400 of those employees are in senior management or are elected officials, according to a recent report from the St. Petersburg Times.
Cantrell retired for 30 days and has received one retirement check, McGonegal said. She will forgo her pension check for the next 11 months.
“I think we’re lucky to have her come back and provide her leadership,” said School Board Chairman Walter Miller, who retired from the public schools system before getting elected to the board. “She has the experience and, most importantly, a track record of success.”
Other Manatee County officials benefiting from the DROP loophole include Bob Sweat, Manatee County’s supervisor of elections; and R.B “Chips” Shore, Manatee’s clerk of courts, the Herald has reported.
Miller said he understands the perception of those who take advantage of the program’s loophole.
“Maybe it’s something the Legislature can look at,” Miller said. “It’s a sensitive issue.”
Cantrell’s reappointment would coincide with the recommended hiring of two former elected officials to the school district.
District administrators also recommended hiring former school board member Frank Brunner to replace a retiring career adviser at Manatee High and former county commissioner Jane von Hahmann to serve as a liaison between the small learning communities in the district’s high schools, MTI and the business community.
Brunner was selected out of 150 qualified applicants. His position would pay $40,594. Von Hahmann was chosen out of 15 qualified applicants. Her position would pay $56,582.
Both positions are funded through a grant and are set to sunset after 18 months.