Rick Mills, Former Manatee County Superintendent
When the Manatee County School Board last week bought out the remainder of Superintendent of Schools Rick Mills’ contract, the parties parted on hostile terms. Before heading out, Mills spoke with SRQ about his experience in the district.
What led you to tell the School Board you wanted to leave before your contract was out? First of all, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last two years. We’ve turned the school district around academically and financially. I’m very proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished in a short period. I’d even go as far as to say it’s been an extraordinary thing one might not be able to find replicated anywhere else in the country. The true legacy of a good leader is to leave behind a highly competent and capable team of people to continue the work of that organization. Whether or not they stay will really depend on the ability of the School Board to give direction and leadership, and to focus on the kids.
How did the election, which changed the make-up of the board that hired you substantially, impact the course of events here? The reality is that a superintendent’s longevity depends on the dynamics of School Board elections. I had a supportive School Board but obviously that all changed last fall. I as superintendent made some recommendations in January and February that I thought were not only right but were legally supported by the School Board attorney and the School Board chose to make decisions otherwise. I became disillusioned with those decisions. Then a series of events have shown I don’t have the support of three School Board members. I felt they were moving in a direction, and I submitted for retirement in July.
What would you have done differently? Good leaders are always retrospective and can always look back and say, ‘I should have handled this different.’ What I can tell you is every decision I've made has been with the best interest of students and this district’s employees, and I made no decisions that were not aligned with that. However, people didn’t like my decisions for reasons different than that. It’s even possible it was because of political dynamics and personal agendas contrary to those reasons. I think people should be very concerned with what has been going on in the district in recent months.
Some districts in Florida have elected superintendents. Do you wish Manatee had one? It would have been better for me. When I came to Florida I thought it odd to have elected superintendents here, but seeing the politics, I see it can be a better system, in this county particularly. If I were CEO of a company and I produced the realities and outcomes that I have as superintendent, what is the outcome of that? The School Board needs to stay in governance and stay out of management.
What can the next superintendent do to stay successful and keep the district on track? I don’t know if that’s even possible. As a superintendent, you work with the board you have, and I’ve worked hard to do that.