New CFO chosen for city schools Appointee to manage $700 million budget

October 15, 1997|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

The new Baltimore school board voted yesterday to turn over management of the district's $700 million budget to an accountant with a professional background in public schools and private industry.

Roger Reese Jr., 41, comptroller for Atlanta public schools, will assume the role of interim chief financial officer in Baltimore on Jan. 1. Reese agreed to terms with the new school board yesterday, and his hiring was announced at last night's school board meeting.

"I'm very impressed with him," said board member Ed Brody, who chairs the board's personnel committee and has been leading the searches for chief executive, chief academic and chief financial officers.

The state legislation that created the new city/state management of Baltimore schools split the duties formerly performed by the superintendent among those three posts.

"He's well-qualified, familiar with finance and familiar with urban systems," Brody said. "He has already put in the kinds of systems we need here in Atlanta, so he comes well prepared."

Among Reese's first challenges will be setting up anew finance and accounting system for the school district that operates separately from the city government's. He will be asked to fine-tune the district's purchasing systems to eliminate waste and increase efficiency.

He will be asked to rein in a system that for years has spent money it doesn't have.

Interim Chief Executive Officer Robert E. Schiller said one of the most frustrating things he has encountered in his four months in Baltimore has been the lack of financial planning in the school system. Programs are approved without money to fund them. Bills don't get paid for months, he said.

Reese said the opportunity to build a new infrastructure attracted him to Baltimore. "That's an appealing challenge to anyone in the financial field," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done there, and I'm eager to get started."

Reese will serve as an interim chief financial officer on a 12-month contract. The new chief executive officer -- being sought -- will have the chance to pick his or her person for the job after Reese's contract expires.

"Once the new CEO is in place, my plan would be to build a relationship with that person that would translate into a long-term relationship with the district," he said. "I'd like to be there a while."

Reese has been comptroller in the Atlanta system since 1994. The district has about 60,000 students and a general fund of about $420 million. Reese said Atlanta's schools deal with the same problems as Baltimore schools: lack of money, high poverty rates and low student achievement.

Before Atlanta, Reese was comptroller for the Savannah, Ga., school system. Before Savannah, he worked for General Electric, holding such posts as analyst and senior financial analyst.

Reese said his experience in Atlanta might serve him best in Baltimore. With a shortage in capital funds and a dire need to improve school facilities, Atlanta district officials successfully negotiated an increase in the local sales tax. The result: $500 million in capital funds over five years.

"We were creative," Reese said. "That's how we got the money we needed. That's the kind of thing we'll need to do in Baltimore."

Reese is married and has three school-age daughters. They attend Atlanta's public schools. When he moves to Baltimore, they will enroll in public schools here.

"I think that's really important, to believe in what you're doing and to want to make a difference," Reese said. "You should buy into what you're doing, and that's one way to show that I'm doing that."

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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