Bozeman Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller announced Tuesday that he is leaving to take a job as the School Administrators of Montana executive director, in hopes of making a difference for Montana’s 142,000 public school students.

Miller, 53, said at a press conference that he’s believes the biggest difference he can make in education is to get “top notch” professional training for Montana’s school administrators and to work with the Legislature for better funding of public schools.

“I’m excited about the opportunity” to work “in the field I love,” Miller said, adding he does feel “some sadness” about leaving the Bozeman job. “It has been the toughest eight days of my 31 years in education. Bozeman is a community that values education.”

The School Administrators of Montana board voted unanimously last week to offer the job to Miller, and the two sides negotiated for a week.

Part of the negotiations was over salary. Miller makes $131,300 a year as Bozeman’s superintendent, and the SAM job originally offered up to $90,000. They agreed on $110,000, he said.

“Yes, it is a pay cut, but it is a way for this lifelong educator to make a difference,” Miller said. He also expects to have more control over his schedule, which now demands six days a week in Bozeman.

Miller said though some legislators “misperceive” Montana’s public schools, through “transparency and accountability … I really believe we’re going to make headway … helping Montanans understand the need to invest in our public schools. As student success grows, economic development grows, and the health of our state grows.”

The search for a new Bozeman superintendent will begin immediately, and a special School Board meeting will be held Tuesday to launch it.

Though Bozeman’s search is a couple weeks behind the Billings School District’s and Helena’s search already has four finalists, Miller said he’s confident that hasn’t left Bozeman in the lurch and a good candidate can be hired by the end of May.

“We’ve worked pretty hard to build a reputation to attract the very best,” he said.

Miller has led the 5,800-student Bozeman School District for five years since he was hired from Havre, the town where he grew up. He has overseen the $36 million reconstruction of Bozeman High, construction of a seventh elementary school and adoption of a long-range strategic plan to guide the district’s future. Under Miller the district put a report card on its schools online, replaced its special education director, expanded the use of teaching coaches despite tight budgets and moved the Bridger Alternative Program from Willson School to Bozeman High, despite protests from some students.

Bozeman School Board Chair Denise Hayman said before the announcement that if Miller were leaving, “it’s a huge loss for the district, but the district is in a great position to attract outstanding candidates, and I’m very optimistic.”

Vice Chair Bruce Grubbs said, “I’m not happy for Bozeman, but the state of Montana will be well served. He’s an exceptional leader.

“He’s a doer, he moves things along,” Grubbs said. “People respect him. He’s very honest, ethical, a super-hard worker. He has a lot of credibility in the state of Montana education community and the Legislature. He’s passionate about promoting public education.”

The trustees said the board would launch a national search for a superintendent. “We aren’t too late,” Grubbs said. “I think we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.”

The School Administrators of Montana is an umbrella group representing five professional organizations and 800 education leaders, including county school superintendents, school district superintendents, principals and special education administrators. Its previous head, Darrell Rud, is retiring after 10 years on the job.

Miller‘s new job starts July 1. He is currently a SAM officer in charge of federal relations, which involves flying to Washington, D.C., to argue to Congress for changes in education law and funding.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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