Ex-Superintendent Rick Mills: Elections 'disruptive' to Manatee School District

BRADENTON -- Few things remain on Rick Mills' L-shaped desk: some energy drinks for long school board nights, fruit cups, snacks and some books.

Otherwise, the office Mills occupied for two years as superintendent of the Manatee County School District is empty.

A table in the conference room has some awards and other plaques, waiting to be boxed up and taken away.

"I didn't realize I had so much stuff here," Mills said Wednesday, the day after the Manatee County school board officially ended his tenure as superintendent and placed Deputy Superintendent of Operations Don Hall into the interim position.

In sandals, plaid shorts and a black polo, Mills arrived at about 10 a.m to start cleaning out his office. He ducked out for a few minutes to see Hall sworn in and to say some goodbyes to staff members.

Mills will receive 20 weeks of pay and benefits -- nearly $80,000 -- to leave the district. Mills estimated the amount at $73,000 before he is paid for unused sick time, vacation and other benefits

such as his car allowance. A public records request submitted Wednesday for the final figure was not immediately available.

At first, board chairman Bob Gause questioned giving Mills 20 weeks of pay, which goes beyond what the July 31 end date would have been. Mills insisted on the 20 weeks -- an idea originally floated by board member Mary Cantrell -- and said he wouldn't agree to a shorter time.

At 60, Mills said he is financially in the place where he could retire and live out the rest of his days playing golf. But he said he has too much energy. He is looking at a few options, including a career change to become a financial adviser or staying in education and throwing his hat into the ring for the superintendent job in Brevard County.

Mills said he believes Brevard has a high-functioning school board that can see through the dysfunction and personal agendas he faced in Manatee County.

"I think school boards are savvy and understand the situations that superintendents have to deal with," he said.

Mills said he supports the Manatee district's current leadership team and Hall, as interim superintendent, has an advantage of being in the district for two years.

Mills said it would be inappropriate for him to name who he would choose as the next superintendent.

Mills is concerned Hall will have to deal with some of the same issues that plagued his tenure, which Mills described as a small group of individuals conspiring to undermine him and his team.

"That's frightening to me," he said.

On Wednesday, Mills said he is going along with what the board had proposed and what was in his contract.

"I supported it under the conditions it was presented at the last meeting," Mills said.

Mills announced his retirement because he said he lost the support of the school board after the elections. Mills called the politics and hoopla surrounding the elections disappointing. He said he's never seen anything like it before, both from community members and from other elected officials who got involved in the campaigns.

"I felt the elections were very disruptive to us as a school district," he said.

Mills denied he created a culture where employees felt they could not speak out for fear of retaliation.

"That is total crap," he said.

In late April, the superintendent announced he'd be leaving the district July 31 -- two years earlier than his contract end date in 2017. At first, the board approved that end date. Tuesday night, the board approved speeding up Mills' retirement, allowing him to end his tenure immediately.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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