School district new finance director

It took a few tries, but the Indian River School District has hired a new Director of Business. Tammy Smith was set to begin her duties on Sept. 10.

Smith most recently worked in the private sector, and was previously employed in the Delaware Auditor of Accounts office. She will get immediately to work to begin prepping the draft budget for the 2020 fiscal year. The board of education typically doesn’t approve a final budget until after the Sept. 30 unit count — a snapshot count of all students enrolled, which is the basis for most government funding.

Jeannette “Jan” Steele retired from the district this summer. She joined the district in 2016 when the previous chief financial officer was placed on administrative leave — and eventually retired — during an investigative audit.

“It’s been very challenging. I came in when there was a financial crisis, so we got over that hump,” Steele said this summer. She helped the IRSD pass a current expense referendum in 2017, although the 2019 capital expense referendum did not pass the public vote.

Superintendent Mark Steele [no relation] has repeatedly complimented her hard work. Not only did she help the school board better understand the complexities of an educational budget, he said, but she helped them through tough decisions during budget cuts. Most importantly, she was credited with developing the most recent referendum idea, which would allow IRSD to reuse schools, rather than build too many.

“It’s just going to be very challenging. There’s going to be a limited number of dollars,” which means the school board needs “outside-the-box thinking and needs to come together.”

Jan Steele called her time at IR “very rewarding,” and said she looks forward to retirement.

John Nauman had arrived to take her place in April, coming from the Delaware Office of Management & Budget (OMB). He and the administration had said they looked forward to working together.

However, mid-summer, Nauman announced that he could not stay. It was a very hard decision, as he enjoyed being at IRSD, he told the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee. But an ailing parent meant he had to refocus his efforts toward home.

Although the board was disappointed that their new hire had to leave so quickly, “I’ve been through all that, what with two parents, and my wife’s two parents,” Board President Charles Bireley said. “I would not criticize anybody. I know what it’s like to go through that.”

After Nauman’s resignation, the school board didn’t make an immediate decision on hiring a replacement in July, so they went one month without a finance director. After four rounds of voting, they didn’t have a solid majority for any candidate, so they revisited the topic in August.

Some board members said they would have been comfortable with any of the candidates they had interviewed. Others picked a favorite. But Heather Statler was one board member who wanted a deeper dive on all proposed candidates.

After watching a past CFO depart under clouds of suspicion during the 2016 state audit, “I’m not willing to compromise on someone that’s handling the millions and millions of our finances,” Statler said. “Our district is just so big we don’t have the luxury to have someone in that position we’re not confident can handle that magnitude. … I want the highest-quality person. … It is of utmost importance to me that we get someone that I think is a perfect fit for this position.”



By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter