MANATEE -- For the next superintendent of the Manatee County School District to succeed, the Manatee County School Board must be able to hire someone who fits the district's culture, a consultant told the board during a training Friday.
"We have to be able to do the hard work to be able to define the culture so the candidate has a reasonable idea of the culture they are working in," Barry Banther, a consultant hired to lead Friday's board training, told the board. "It is a lot of hard work to find out what the culture is."
With superintendent Rick Mills set to retire from the district at the end of July after two years at helm, the school board will now must embark on a search to find the district's next leader.
"Fundamentally this is the most important decision you'll make in your tenure and career," Banther said. "You are buying the most important resource that you have. ... It's hard work. I don't envy you, but it is yours. Don't run from it, embrace it, but you have to own it. Listen to all the good advice, but own it yourself, because it will be hard work."
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Banther, who has previously worked with the State Col
lege of Florida and Manatee County government, came to the school district building to lead the training after two board members backed out of master board-training session in Kissimmee run by the Florida School Board Assocation. The training was aimed to help board members communicate more effectively and work together efficiently.
During Friday's training in Bradenton, board members signed a leadership covenant to show their commitment to eight principles: "We will show genuine respect for each other in meetings and the community;" "We will encourage our differences of opinion while showing teamwork once a decision is made;" "We will encourage and value public comment;" "We will strive to communicate in a way that shows respect for our staff throughout the district;" "We will resist the temptation to just go away;" "We will strive to respect the boundary between governance and management while staying informed;" "We will learn and know our policies," and "We will take personal and joint responsibilities for seeking a new superintendent who aligns with our culture."
All board members signed the paper Friday except Mary Cantrell, who was sick and phoned into the training to participate.
Banther said this allows the board members to be an independent voice, but these are the areas where others can expect them to collaborate.
"We are committing ourself to each other," he said. "You can't escape this unless you resign the board."
Board chairman Bob Gause called Friday's training "an opportunity for (the board) to start building on our leadership capacity."
"I think this board has what it takes," he said. "I've seen in this board leadership and collaboration."
In the past few months, the word "dysfunction" has been thrown about in relation to the school board, most recently by Karen Carpenter, who floated the idea of having a state receiver or community group work with the board on leadership.
The board relationship has led to long meetings, delayed decisions and rebuking recommendations from staff. Gause has noted in emails to board members that the demeanor of the board is improving and that the board is beginning to function more effectively. The board has been working together as a team for about six months, since the elections.
At the end of Friday's training, Carpenter made the suggestion to have Banther return in the future.
"I would like to have a regular house call, Dr. Banther," she said. "I think it would be very helpful."
Gause said the district can only move forward.
"I think it is arguably the best of times because we can only go forward," he said. "We've gotten a great gift. It is a great start. It's up to us. I think we are doing a good job and we will do a better job."
-- Meghin Delaney contributed to this story.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.