Leadership and vision are qualities that characterize Robert Moore, Deputy Superintendent Finance and Operations of Oakland Schools. He is dedicated to serving not only Oakland Schools – but all schools and students in Michigan.
A respected leader with more than 30 years of service as a chief financial officer, Bob has worked tirelessly to inform policymakers and stakeholders about the cost for all students to achieve state standards. He was MSBO’s 2018 School Business Official of the Year and a past recipient of MSBO’s Distinguished Service award.
Bob was also a recent recipient of ASBO International’s Eagle Award. Following are excerpts to some questions that were included in the nomination packet submitted by MSBO.
As many of you know, Bob will be retiring at the end of this year. Thank you, Bob, for all you have done to help students in Michigan.
Describe unique aspects or responsibilities of your position that you would share with your community to build greater awareness and understanding of the school business profession.
MOORE: School systems have stakeholders in every part of society. Communicating the financial condition of the system accurately, transparently, and in a manner which is understandable to all is vital to earning trust. Providing comprehensive information both internally and externally about the risks within the operating environment and the assumptions made in financial planning is another crucial responsibility of the business official.
Risk management has never been more vitally important than now as the pace of change has accelerated dramatically over the years. Preparing stakeholders by keeping them well informed of the available options for dealing with risk is a key to creating buy in. No one likes surprises when the news is bad. Avoiding such surprises takes all of the above and doing so avoids much of the distraction and confusion caused by significant change.
School Finance is inherently complex and hard to understand for most everyone including legislators, school board members, the business community, parents and taxpayers. It takes consistent effort over time to address these challenges and as the saying goes, the job is never done. It is a responsibility for all school business officials.
What is your leadership philosophy, and how have you applied it in your career? Share examples of how it has affected outcomes for your staff and for the district.
MOORE: I encourage staff to take responsibility for their own work, while creating an environment where they feel supported and are provided resources adequate to reach established objectives. I listen closely to staff, involving their input, providing guidance when needed, while ensuring they are not threatened by coaching conversations.
I set an example of preparedness and commitment to the vital work of education. I communicate the urgency which we must have to improve educational outcomes. I stress the importance of preparation and planning by participating in the planning without being unnecessarily directive.
I demonstrate advocacy and compassion for employees on issues big or small, so they know they are supported. In return, staff is not reluctant to present ideas or take risks. I use inquiry as a tool for holding a mirror up in front of staff needing to improve. I praise success and focus more on strengths possessed by staff rather than on their weaknesses. Lastly, I strongly support the continuing education of all staff members and organize the departments to create career pathways wherever feasible. As a leader, ensuring staff is performing at their best, celebrating successes and guiding them on their journeys, has been one of the greatest gifts, with which I have been rewarded. Many of my direct reports have gone on to become very successful Chief Business Officials, Assistant Superintendents and Chief Financial Officers.
What has been the greatest challenge or conflict your district has faced, and what did you do to help overcome it?
MOORE: Property tax funding provides nearly 70% of Oakland Schools annual revenue. The mortgage meltdown which began in 2009 and the ensuing recession reduced this revenue source by as much as 25% or by $53 Million a year. We were closely monitoring the operating environment and acted decisively and proactively. We cut staffing once and deep enough to avoid the “cut every year approach” which distracts and disrupts nearly everything.
However, the greatest challenge faced was rapidly declining enrollment (a loss of 5,000 to 11,000 students each year) while serving at the Detroit Public Schools. This created a need to reduce expenditures by nearly $100 million each year. The rapid expansion of for-profit charter schools, changes to school choice laws and grossly inadequate funding of special education and students in poverty created a severe financial and education crisis. 1.3 Million sq. ft. of school closures (more than 50 schools) were made in just a 3-year period. This task required both me and the CEO to form a large multi-disciplinary team to develop the needed data and build a plan to restructure the system both in terms of infrastructure and staffing. This planning effort served the District for many years.
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