The Albany School Board has offered its interim superintendent position to a retired superintendent with experience in Oregon, Washington and Colorado.
Tim Mills, who faced controversy during his last position as superintendent of the Bellevue School District in Bellevue, Washington, said Wednesday the contract has not yet been signed but he has been offered the job and has accepted.
Mills has 40 years of experience in education, including 18 as a superintendent. He had been with Bellevue since 2012 and retired June 30, 2017, moving back to his home state of Colorado.
During his time in Bellevue, Mills was named in a 2016 investigation commissioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association into alleged football recruiting violations at Bellevue High School.
According to the report, the investigation found the football program guilty of numerous violations and said school district and high school administrators — including Mills, who was named specifically — "knew, or should have known, of the multiple violations of WIAA rules and chose to overlook, or not thoroughly investigate, these breaches."
WIAA stripped the football program of its 2012 and 2013 state titles and initially imposed a postseason ban of four years. This was reduced to one, and a statement from the association in 2017 said that decision was because the board recognized a "culture shift" had been made at the high school.
Albany Board Chairwoman Jennifer Ward said board members were not aware of the controversy and it didn't come up during Mills' interview. On learning of it from contact with the Democrat-Herald, she said she talked with Mills and is still satisfied he's the right person for the job.
"In fact, it completely confirms the feeling that we had, that this is a man that can walk into a district where there has been systemic challenges, can deal with those challenges in a transparent and forthright way, and take the action that's appropriate and leave the district in a better place because of it," she said.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Mills acknowledged the accusation that Bellevue administrators hadn't acted on problems with the football program, but said it wasn't true.
He said during his five years at Bellevue he received only one question about whether a student was eligible for the football team and he directed a staff member to check into it.
"At that point, we didn't see anything," he said, adding: "Anytime something came in, we would always follow up and try to find out if that was there."
Mills said when the investigation revealed wrongdoing clearly had taken place and that facts had been concealed from the central office, he and his executive team took action.
"Ultimately what occurred was, we did not renew two of the coaches' contracts for the next football season," he said. "And we did some additional investigation through our human resources department that just reinforced the decision to not renew the contracts."
Mills also noted the school district itself had earlier asked WIAA to look into the football team, to check whether its use of an alternative education program for players met the association's rules. That request became part of the overall investigation, he said.
As Albany's interim superintendent, Mills said he would approach any controversial situation the same way: by being sure he knows board polices and practices and state regulations "and making sure we adhere."
Before Bellevue, Mills served three years as superintendent in North Clackamas, Oregon. He cited that experience when board members asked him to talk about tough decisions he has had to make in his educational career.
At that time, Mills said, Oregon was entering the economic recession. To save money, he made the decision to close one school, relocate another, lay off staff members and shorten the school calendar.
It was a difficult time, but Mills said he was able to work through it through a collaborative effort with certified and classified staff.
He said he's not concerned about returning to Oregon because the job is different. Instead of shepherding a school district through rough economic waters into an uncertain future, he'll be easing the transition for a new schools chief.
"I really want, in my time there, to work with the board and all the staff and community to try to position Albany in the best place it can be for the new superintendent coming in a year from now," he said.
Prior to his time in Oregon, Mills was superintendent in the Mesa Valley County and Brush Public school districts in Colorado. He was the Colorado Superintendent of the Year in 2009.
Mills holds degrees from the University of Colorado and from NOVA Southeastern University in Florida. He began his career as a music teacher in Colorado and Arizona and has served as a middle school principal, an assistant principal and an executive director of high school education.
Mills and his wife, Gail, have been married for 34 years. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.
The Albany board tapped Mills following a national search done with the assistance of Hank Harris of Human Capital Enterprises at a cost of $10,000. Human Resources Director Randy Lary said 17 people applied for the position, seven received interviews and three were selected as finalists.
The Albany board is to vote on Mills' contract Aug. 13. Lary said the board authorized a salary range of between $140,000 and $150,000 annually, pro-rated for the length of the contract, which is expected to be through June 30, 2019.
Mills said he will be available to start by the end of the month. The search for a permanent superintendent has not yet begun.
Ward said Mills is aware the Albany board fired Superintendent Jim Golden last month, reporting the the three-year superintendent had committed gross insubordination, neglect of duty and conduct seriously prejudicial to the district.
"He has experience with a district that has some healing to do, and we certainly have that," she said.