Schools hire new manager for money matters
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:41 PM
School books have a different meaning for financial expert Simone Sangster.
Yesterday, she handed in her dissertation at Harvard. Today will offer no reprieve from learning, as Simone Sangster continues to cram for her next test: minding the purse strings of Bainbridge schools.
Im reading everything I can get my hands on, she said from Boston, where shell stay until June. Then she and her husband, Raegen Miller, will head west, to settle on the island where Sangster has been tabbed as the school districts first assistant superintendent for finance.
The position was created to fill a void created last June, when former Assistant Superintendent Bruce Colley retired.
Superintendent Ken Crawford said the new position which he likened to the role of chief financial officer is necessary to improve the transparency and fiscal accountability of Bainbridge schools.
With technology levies and school bonds, there are significant amounts of money coming through the district, he said. With that comes a greater demand for optimum use of those resources.
Sangster, who hails from Australia, began her career as an accountant in various fields. She spent a decade with international public accounting firm KPMG, where she rose to a senior management position.
Eventually, though, the finance world wasnt enough.
You get to a point where you feel like youve maxed out your skills in a certain field, she said. I wanted a career where I would wake up in the morning and feel like I was doing something for society.
Citing experience as a school board member in Vancouver, British Columbia, previous school-related volunteer work and numerous influences from her past, Sangster turned to education.
In 2002, she earned a masters degree in education from Harvard, where she is scheduled to be awarded a Ph.D. next month. To broaden her knowledge of school funding along the way, she served as an education finance consultant in several school districts.
In choosing her future workplace, Sangster said she gravitated toward Bainbridge because she loves the area, and the size of the community.
If you look at a place like Miami, the school district is massive, she said. There you would end up being a bean-counter. I want to be able to see whats going on in the classroom. I want to walk into an art class and say okay, this is where the money is going.
In all, five candidates interviewed for the position.
At a time when most candidates with financial expertise have been favoring the private sector, Crawford said the district was fortunate to find one with both financial and educational expertise.
This is very rare, he said. Everyone who met her was impressed with her credentials and shes extremely personable. Shell fit in well at the organization.
Crawford expects there to be a transition period as Sangster familiarizes herself with the peculiarities of a state education funding system that he said is often anomalous and counterintuitive.
But it wont take long, he said, for Sangster and the newly created position to meld.
You can try to apply a template, he said. But you also want to allow time for the demands and expectations of the position to align with her individual skills.
Until then, Sangster said shell continue preparing for her new role.
I have a lot to learn from all sorts of different sources, she said. Its a pity I have to wait a few months to get started. Im really excited.
Moment of truth
School district officials were to open bids Tuesday afternoon for the new 200 building at Bainbridge High School. The districts final cost estimate for the renovation which would include a new library, commons, office and classroom space was $20.6 million. How closely that number matches the low bid will determine the recommendation of Capital Facilities Director Tamela VanWinkle to the School Board at a special meeting Thursday night at 5 p.m. at Sakai Intermediate School. Check www.bainbridgereview.com today for early bid coverage. A full story, including school board reaction and project updates, will be in Saturdays Review.