BRADENTON -- Less than a year after asking the Manatee County School Board for a two-year contract extension and saying he wanted to stay in the district "for the long haul," Superintendent Rick Mills sent an email to the school board asking them not to extend his contract past its current end date: June 30, 2017.
The past year has proved tumultuous for Mills, who came into the fiscally struggling district in March 2013. He lost a key supporter in the recent board elections, with Mary Cantrell beating out incumbent Julie Aranibar, and has faced heavy criticism from both board members and the public in his tenure so far. Mills and some community members often allude to a group of people from the western part of the county -- dubbed "westies" -- who meet to try to oust Mills from his job.
But the district has also made progress, passing a balanced budget and meeting state-mandated minimum financial reserves for the first time since 2009.
The three-sentence email was sent to board members on Thursday. In it, Mills said it was his intention that when he became superintendent it would be his last job.
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"Upon accepting the position of Superintendent of Manatee County Public Schools, it was my intent for this to be my last job and last move. However, at this time, I will not be requesting the renewal of my superintendent contract beyond the terms already agreed upon," he wrote.
Mills has no additional comment, district spokesman Mike Barber said Friday.
Mills' current contract includes a one-year automatic extension to the contract if the board takes no action to prevent that by June 1.
On Friday afternoon, board chair Bob Gause said one pos
itive that came out Mills' announcement is that the board will not have to eat up time debating whether to give Mills a one-year extension because Mills has already made a decision.
"We can stay focused on the kids and keep trying to make things better," Gause said.
Karen Carpenter, who was the board chair when Mills was hired, said Mills has done the job the district brought him in to do.
"Maybe his job is to be the game changer, then go to another district," Carpenter said.
In his nearly two years with the district, Mills has increased accountability, Carpenter said, and helped improve the financial outlook.
"He's a real accountability guy," Carpenter said.
School board member Charlie Kennedy said he was a little surprised by Mills' email, but understands the frustrations Mills has faced on the job. Since Mills still has two more years left on his contract, Kennedy said it still provides the district with some much-needed stability.
"I hope this is something he'll reconsider along the way," Kennedy said.
Mary Cantrell also was taken off guard Friday morning upon learning about the email.
"I'm a little bit surprised by it," she said. "But a lot can happen between now and 2017."
Cantrell said Mills needs to be able to make the best decision for himself.
"Things always work out for the best," she said.
Board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner, the only board member to give Mills an unfavorable performance evaluation last year, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Diana Greene, the deputy superintendent of instruction, could also be leaving the district in the near future. She's on short lists for at least two superintendent jobs, one in Florida and one in South Carolina. Greene has declined to speak publicly about her job applications. Her resume with the other districts includes Mills and former school board member Barbara Harvey as references.
"We always knew Diana wanted to be a superintendent," Carpenter said. "If she gets one of those positions, it will be a hard position to fill."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.