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Saturday, Feb 28, 2015

School CFO talks business


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About 11 years ago, when John Wilkinson worked in operations, his wife, a teacher, worked in a school that was moving increasingly “into the black,” but not in the sense Wilkinson would have hoped.

“The mold,” Wilkinson said. “The overall conditions were poor, and being in operations I’d come to (the superintendent) and give suggestions and say, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Despite what complications may arise when giving advice to your spouse’s boss, these frequent, nonadversarial exchanges between Wilkinson and this school superintendent about maintenance and upkeep instead proved monumental in getting him to where he is today: Hernando County Schools’ next chief financial officer.

“He told me to put my money where my mouth is, and come work for him,” Wilkinson said. “It served me well.”

A Cincinnatian, Wilkinson has been married 24 years, and has four children ranging in age from high school down to elementary school.

“My wife was given a job down here, and we came down with a hope and a prayer that we would find something,” Wilkinson said. “I did for the interim, but my goal was to get to a county school system.”

Hernando County Schools appealed to Wilkinson because of its 23,129 students and demographics, Wilkinson said, which are similar to what he was used to at his previous district up north, which had 18,500 students.

“I think what I really liked about it was it has a good mix of what I had up north, and what I call the outlying suburban area with a very large city like Tampa and St. Petersburg,” Wilkinson said. “And a mixture of families very keen on educating their children, and have a vested interest in it, and that’s why I’m there.”

Wilkinson has nine years of school CFO experience, he said, or step 10 on Hernando County’s public service employment salary scale, which is what the district has been verifying, and will process this week.

“For me, it’s not always the salary, but the quality of what you can do and what happens to the district while you’re there,” Wilkinson said. “What I’ve had really good success with in the last five years is efficiencies, and making sure everything gets done.”

For Wilkinson, purchasing is as crucial as a revenue source, he said, especially as it pertains to the district’s building goals. The relationship between what the district purchases and for how much will be a heavy area of focus come budgeting, he said.

“What I’d really like to do is get everybody involved in budgeting, and really involve them so they understand this is our relationship between them and my office as stewards of the money we’re trusted with,” Wilkinson said.

“I’m a firm believer in making sure every partner, and person who is a part of the education process has that empowerment and say in the budgeting process. I’m very much a bottom-to-top budgeting officer.”

As always, it has to be factual, transparent, clearly communicated and easy to understand, Wilkinson said.

“I do like to make it so everyone knows where we are, and where we’re going, and to make sure everyone in the office understands this is our situation,” Wilkinson said. “When there are big types of changes with the budget, I involve the community as well, so everyone can hear what we’re doing, and I think that makes for a really successfully school district.”

“I think it’s real important for them to get to know me, and I’ll give them many opportunities to do that,” he added.

“I’m very much interested in public education. I think it’s important and something we should be proud of, and as people get to know me hopefully they’ll get to see that.”

(352) 544-5271

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