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Superintendent Denied Amendments to Strenghten Contract by Split Board


BRADENTON – Manatee School District Superintendent Rick Mills was unable to secure additional job security in advance of the November school board election, as a vote to extend his contract through June of 2018 and require a unanimous vote of the board to remove him without cause (while maintaining a 3-2 requirement "with cause") failed at Tuesday night's marathon meeting.

Mills's contract remains the same as it was, after the Manatee School Board voted 3-2 against the proposed amendments to the superintendent's contract, which was written when he was hired in early 2013.

A two-year extension on Mills's contract would have pushed his position in the district from 2016 to June 30, 2018. That extension was effectively denied in the 3-2 vote on the amendments (board members Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter, who were in favor of the amendments, dissented).

The failed changes to the contract include requiring a unanimous vote from the board in order to terminate Mills without cause; and requiring a majority vote to terminate with cause, which the amended contract defined as "Immorality, misconduct in office, incompetence, gross insubordination (elaborated in the proposed amended contract), willful neglect of duty (elaborated), drunkenness, for use of illegal drugs or conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude." 

The original contract requires only a majority board vote for termination without cause. That means the board, which voted 3-2 to hire Mills and could see new members elected in November, can terminate the superintendent with 30 days notice in writing on or before June 30 of any year within the term of the contract by a simple 3-2 vote.

The amended contract presented before the board also included changes to the original contract's annual bonus salary incentive, which would be decided upon after an annual performance review by board members. The change would have awarded up to $7,500 "based on a satisfactory evaluation" of the superintendent's performance by the board, instead of successful completion of a superintendent's course, which according to 2013 Florida statute 1001.47 5(b), awards between $3,000 to $7,500 .

Speaking earlier in the week to The Bradenton Herald, Mills said that the termination without cause amendment in the contract was designed to insure leadership stability in the district, and that the salary incentive ought to be based on his performance, instead of completion of the superintendent's course.

Superintendent Mills is entering his second year as superintendent of the district, which is still recovering from major financial mismanagement from the previous administration, as well as numerous scandals involving administration at its largest and most well-known high school. 

Two of the three majority voters, Barbara Harvey and Bob Gause, emphasized during discussion that they supported the superintendent and a one-year extension for his position (which was a term of his original contract).

Harvey, Aranibar and Carpenter are up for re-election. Aranibar will face at least one opponent, property manager Carlton Nichols; Carpenter is so far unopposed and Harvey has not yet decided whether she will run for reelection, while two candidates -- Rodney Jones, an official at USF; and Manatee High teacher Charlie Kennedy -- have already filed to run for her seat.

The superintendent has hired administration decidedly not from within the district, which was often accused of nepotism and of putting low-qualified people in high-ranking positions during Tim McGonegal's administration. All of said new administration would easily be subject to removal should he be voted out of his position.

The vote was made after much discussion from board members and several comments from citizens, both of which helped push adjournment of the regular meeting to nearly midnight.

Board member David Miner (who has had a contentious relationship with the superintendent since he was hired), citing an editorial that ran Tuesday morning in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, said in reference to keeping the contract unchanged that, "A deal is a deal. Maybe some of the terms in the contract should be changed, but according to the op-ed, a deal is a deal."

Following up on Miner's comments, Karen Carpenter said: "(Some people in the media), like some of the people who oppose people on this dais, have biases." She referenced some of the changes made after Mills was voted in, such as the district's new nepotism and fraternization policies. "There are people who don't like that ... but that's too bad," she said. 

Carpenter also remarked on the unanimous vote clause, saying, "I have a big problem with termination without cause ... when you can arbitrarily do that without cause, that's not right ... professional management of an organization gives people appropriate employment practices." She added, "I don't want this board to be subject to political winds that can go one way or another," and also expressed support for keeping Mills and his administrative staff in their current positions.

Aranibar offered high praise for Mills and what she called his "high integrity," and said she believed that the termination without cause language in the superintendent's contract should be removed completely.

Bob Gause, who said he had no problem with the performance incentive change but opposed the vote clause and two-year extension, stated that the district was far ahead of where it should be operationally and praised the recent news about the discrict's increase in FCAT scores. He said that the district "may be going in a better direction," but that he wanted to take a longer "wait and see" approach to the standing of the district.

Barbara Harvey also supported a one-year extension isntead of a two-year, and opposed all other changes to the contract. She said she wished to have Mills around for at least three years, and that she would like to see "continuity" and "stability" in the district.

Miner later added, "I think we all agree that stability is important." He went on to say that he opposed the unanimous vote clause on the grounds that it would "reduce the authority of this board."

Several citizens spoke at the dais, many of whom praised Mills' performance thus far, with some dissenting on the changes and others supporting them.

Citizen Glenn Gibellina said to the Superintendent while at the dais, "I think think you're doing a great job, but you should honor the existing contract ... you're setting a bad message to anyone down the road." He also said regarding the unanimous vote clause, "This is a democracy, not a jury."

Citizen Corey Holmes echoed the argument that amending the contract would send the wrong message "to our students, our teachers, our staff."

Linda Neely called the unanimous vote clause "unprecedented." "Our employees, and our teachers did not have the right in their contract to come back at anytime they're not happy with it ... I think you should reconsider your choice (to amend the contract)," she said.

Linda Schaich spoke of what she called the "complete loss of fiscal controls" under the previous administration, praised Mills's financial recovery plan, and said that (certain people) "react negatively to a loss of power and a loss of authority."

Dr. Richard Conard spoke positively of Mills's performance, and noted Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart's recent praise of the district's increases in its FCAT scores. He also said to the board, "I would implore you to not do anything that would disrupt the relationship that (you have) with Mr. Mills and what is going on in this district." 

Philip Brown, President of United Way of Manatee, spoke in favor of both the amendments and the extension. He echoed Conard's comments, saying that the community "would not stand for changing horses midstream." "The demand that the district be the top tier district in Florida is very high," he said and referenced the financial recovery plan created and executed by Mills and his team, and called "the future growth, health and development of our community" contingent upon a high performing district.

Bill Evers, former Bradenton mayor, also offered praise for the superintendent and his administration at the dais, but disagreed with the additional extension.

Many commenters also had strong opposing words for the proposed changes to the performance incentive salary for the superintendent, who said during discussion that the change would not increase the financial amount given for the incentive.

The superintendent will get a one year automatic extension of his current contract, as the board took no action in its last meeting before June 1, when the clause kicks in.


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