BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School Board voted to select Rick Mills as its new superintendent at a special meeting Wednesday night. The vote followed a deep and exhaustive search process which included two days of group and one-on-one interviews with six candidates who had been narrowed from 29 applicants. Board members were thoroughly impressed with a number of finalists, but a majority ultimately decided that Mills was the best fit for a school district in such terrific disarray.
The meeting opened with nearly an hour of public comment, followed by board statements and then finally a vote, in which each of the five members wrote down their top choice. On the first ballot, board members Julie Aranibar, Karen Carpenter and Bob Gause all selected Mills, with Dave "Watchdog" Miner and Barbara Harvey voting for Dr. Diana Greene. After Mills accepted the position via phone, the board took a final vote that had Miner switching his support from Greene to Mills, leaving the final tally at 4-1 with Harvey dissenting.
The selection process incorporated a 24-member citizens advisory group, an outside search consultant, as well as the involvement of two unions, a group of student representatives and district employees, who also vetted and interviewed applicants. Dr. Greene, a deputy superintendent of curriculum with Marion County schools, received a groundswell of public support, especially from the local African American community, many of whom delivered public comment in support of her application on Wednesday night, praising the fact that Marion has consistently outperformed Manatee County, despite higher poverty rates among students.
Mills, who'd received stellar reviews from the vetting groups presenting to the board, is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Minneapolis Public Schools. A retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, he also served as an area superintendent with Chicago Public Schools. After serving as an enlisted soldier, Mr. Mills graduated from West Point, where he later gained classroom experience teaching at the military academy for three years. There seemed to be a broad consensus that Mills brought the strongest finance acumen, which was of particular concern to a district suffering through a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, brought on by inaccurate reporting and system wide process failures.
However, the Western Pennsylvania native also brings a very strong record of student achievement, having improved nearly every metric of student performance at both the Chicago and Minneapolis posts. Board chair Karen Carpenter will now begin the contract negotiation process. While Dr. Greene boasted impressive credentials on the curriculum side, there were concerns among the advisory groups over her lack of district-wide budgetary experience. The new superintendent is expected to come on board at the beginning of April.