Photos by Jon Anderson
Sheila Jones and Arthur Watts
The two finalists for Hoover City Schools chief schools financial officer are Shelia Jones, the chief school financial officer for the Jefferson County Board of Education, and Arthur Watts, the former chief school financial officer for Birmingham City Schools.
The Hoover school board spent roughly 45 minutes interviewing each of the two finalists for chief school financial officer Monday night but held off on a decision.
Several school board members said they wanted more time to consider the two finalists: Jefferson County Chief School Financial Officer Sheila Jones and former Birmingham City Schools Chief School Financial Officer Arthur Watts Jr.
One of those two is slated to replace Cathy Antee as Hoover’s chief school financial officer when her contract expires in June. School board member Jill Ganus Veitch said as important as the position is and with everything the Hoover school system is facing, she wanted more time to make a decision.
School board President Derrick Murphy said the board will make a decision no later than its next regular board meeting on May 9 but may call a special meeting between now and then.
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy said seven people applied for the job, but two of them did not meet the criteria. The other five were interviewed, and seven other people were invited to apply but indicated they were happy in their current positions, Kathy Murphy said.
Board members asked both Jones and Watts why they wanted the Hoover job.
Jones said she’s been the lead finance person for Jefferson County schools since 2006 and is looking for a new challenge. She feels like she has a lot to offer, she said.
Watts said Hoover is one of the best school districts in the country and he considers it an ideal situation. He lives in Hoover but since resigning from Birmingham City Schools last fall has been working as a finance supervisor for Montgomery Public Schools.
School board members talked about their need to make cuts in their budget and asked Jones and Watts how they would go about addressing a string of budget deficits in recent years.
Jones said she would feel uncomfortable presenting a deficit budget. It’s important to show the school district’s stakeholders that school officials are being responsible with the public’s money, Jones said.
If there is no way to increase revenues, there is no choice but to make budget cuts and make sure you are living within your means, she said. School officials can cut out travel costs and supplies, but those kinds of cuts typically don’t make a material difference, she said.
If school officials need to cut significant amounts of expenditures, the most likely place to do that is with personnel, Jones said. Another possibility is to examine the school district’s debt and see if any of it can be refinanced to save money with lower interest rates, she said.
Watts said school officials have to prioritize their spending and make cuts accordingly. The school district only has a certain amount of money and has to maximize those dollars, he said.
Budget cuts may require a reduction in force, looking at positions funded with local revenue, and it may take more than a year to get the deficit spending eliminated, Watts said.
He helped implement two reductions in force when he was with Birmingham City Schools, he said.
Collaboration with other leaders in the school district is key, examining what programs and personnel are most important in terms of the school district’s vision and strategic plan, he said.
Jones had similar comments and said it’s very important to work as a team and get buy-in from other employees when making budget cuts. She also would want to look at projections of the district’s finances for the next five years, she said.
Before becoming Jefferson County’s chief school financial officer in 2006, Jones spent nine years as the county’s assistant director of finance. Before that, she was an accountant for the Alabama Department of Education. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting from Troy State University.
Watts was Birmingham’s chief school financial officer for 13 years. Before that, he worked 4 ½ years as the chief financial officer for the Wilcox County Board of Education after the state took over management of the school system. He helped get that system stabilized before moving to Birmingham schools, he said.
Watts also spent the first four years of his career in the private sector, working a year as an accountant for the Family Guidance Center in Montgomery and three years as a senior accountant with Colonial BancGroup. He has a bachelor’s cegree in business administration with a major in accounting from Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C.