IWCS hires new CFO, says division is on track to avoid deficit repeat

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Isle of Wight County Schools is on track to avoid a repeat of last year’s financial crisis, according to its departing interim chief financial officer.

“We’re closely monitoring expenditures and revenue for the operating budget as we come close to the end of the year,” interim CFO Jim Roberts told the School Board on May 9, four days before Liesl DeVary, formerly of Norfolk Public Schools, took over the role.

IWCS temporarily hired Roberts, the recently retired former superintendent of Chesapeake Public Schools, and rehired its 2003-2010 finance director, Steve Jenkins, to oversee the division’s finance department in the wake of former CFO Larisa Harris’ March 1 resignation and ongoing efforts to recover from a prior-year deficit.

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“We have been working on this since early March and it looks as though we’re going to be OK, although we still have county and state appropriations to come in from May and June,” Roberts said.

May 13 marked DeVary’s first day on the job. According to IWCS, DeVary’s 26 years in finance include time as CFO of the Southeastern Public Service Authority, or SPSA, the regional waste management agency serving Isle of Wight County and seven other Hampton Roads localities. Her past roles also include budget director for Isle of Wight County and most recently senior director of accounting for Norfolk schools.

IWCS Superintendent Theo Cramer, who in August informed the School Board that the division had overspent its budget for the 2022-23 school year, presented a written plan in February for resolving the $703,151 prior-year deficit auditors identified. The plan calls for a spending freeze through June 30 and CFO validation of any expenses deemed essential.

The latter component of Cramer’s plan has been complicated by high turnover in the division’s finance department. DeVary is the division’s fourth CFO, not counting Roberts, in two years.

Cramer initially blamed the deficit on a $945,000 reduction in state funds and on ex-CFO Steve Kepnes, who’d resigned three months prior to Cramer’s August 2022 hiring as superintendent, for allegedly allocating insufficient funds in the 2022-23 budget to continue bus driver raises the School Board had funded in early 2022 with expiring Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief federal pandemic relief money – an allegation Kepnes denies.

Rachel Trollinger, who replaced Kepnes in August 2022, tendered her own resignation in October of that year, telling School Board members at a meeting a month later she’d left because she could “no longer in good conscience” stand before them “and state that the school division was being good stewards with county or taxpayer funds.” Trollinger alleged, and an audit of the division’s 2021-22 finances later confirmed, that the division had delayed requesting reimbursement from the federal government for expenses to be paid with COVID-19 relief funds.

Three months later, in February 2023, Cramer recruited Harris from Portsmouth Public Schools. She remained in the role for just over a year.

“We met today with the grants team and we’re slowly catching up with reimbursements,” Roberts told the School Board on May 9.

According to the 2022-23 audit, reimbursement payments from any awarded grants should be requested within 60 days of the June 30 end of the fiscal year, though $3.4 million in reimbursements from that year had not been submitted as of Aug. 31.

Roberts said the division is on track to have less than $6,000 remaining in its ESSER money by Sept. 30 when any remaining funds expire and revert to the federal government.