Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mills Touts Progress and Cites Challenges SCHOOLS: Chief Praises Turnaround and Gives

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mills Touts Progress and Cites Challenges SCHOOLS: Chief Praises Turnaround and Gives

Article excerpt

MANATEE COUNTY

list of work still to come

At his first public appearance since asking the Manatee County School Board not to renew his contract beyond 2017, Superintendent Rick Mills told a Democratic Club gathering that the district has seen a remarkable turnaround since he took the helm in 2013 but that it still faces challenges.

Mills, who will mark two years as superintendent in March, trumpeted the district's financial and academic successes and highlighted actions he said have been improving local education.

"In the past two years, I believe we've pulled together a great team of people who were in the district, outside of the district and new to Manatee County, to really rebuild the school district to what I would say is nothing short of an extraordinary turnaround," Mills told about 30 members from the Manatee Democratic Club at a lunch meeting.

He pointed to finances, noting the district expects a $16.5 million surplus at the end of this fiscal year, two years after it faced a $25 million shortfall.

That improvement led the Fitch global rating agency to change the district's financial outlook from negative to positive, which could improve the rating of its bonds, Mills said. A better bond rating would enable the district to borrow money at a cheaper rate.

Better finances also allowed the district to spend $10 million more on schools and teachers, with a commitment to reinvest more, Mills said.

The superintendent also touted improving academics.

"In 2013, our school district ranked 47th in the state academically out of 67 school districts," Mills said. "This past year we rose to 37."

Twenty-four schools raised their academic performances by a letter grade. Seven schools jumped two letter grades.

"That is extraordinary folks," Mills said. "It really is -- for that many schools to increase their letter grades."

While Mills painted a largely rosy picture of the work that he and his team have done in the past two years, the district is still facing significant challenges, and the superintendent acknowledged some. …

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