New Chief Financial Officer is accounting for integrity
Interim Re-2 CFO learning on the fly as he works to get the district finance department back on track
Change has been a recent constant at the Garfield School District Re-2 — and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the county just over a month ago.
New interim Chief Financial Officer David Trautenberg hopes to bring back integrity to the financial numbers for the district before the next school year begins.
During a lengthy audit for the 2018-19 fiscal year district officials were made aware of a nearly $4 million surplus in the district’s fund balance in January.
Trautenberg jumped in feet first when he took the helm of finances for the western Garfield County school district, which serves Rifle, Silt and New Castle.
“I don’t want to hit the ground running, I hit the ground learning, because you don’t come in with any assumptions.”
He has spent the last three weeks reaching out to those in the organization, who best know the district and best know the educational environment.
“In order to know what the problem is you have to identify depth and breadth,” Trautenberg said.
“What we decided to do is create a process, much like what we are doing with the coronavirus, to identify all the knowns and unknowns, so we really get good integrity back into our debts and credits.”
Trautenberg said he is very evidence-based and data-driven.
One of the first things Trautenberg found was that the district needs to put a focus moving forward on training on the enterprise resource planning, for which the district uses the Alio Finance and system.
“This is the system for the near and mid-term future. We don’t understand the full functionality of it, and we don’t have formal systematic training,” Trautenberg said.
Working with the superintendent and the school board Trautenberg hopes to plan more training this summer to get all the school sites to recommit to a standard operating procedure so they are all consistent.
“It’s no secret that we have not done a good job in training, but it has been recognized. I think that really comes from the person sitting at the head of the finance department. You don’t start with yourself first; you start with your people and make sure they get trained,” Trautenberg said.
Trautenberg said they are currently operating on a three-dimensional playing field by targeting three areas they are moving forward on simultaneously.
Those three are accounting, reimbursements and moving forward with next year’s budget.
Trautenberg said the question everybody asks is how long will it take to fix the issues.
“If it takes the district 18 months to get into our current state of affairs, most fitness instructors will tell you that the amount of time it took you to get out of shape is probably the amount of time it is probably going to take to get back in shape,” Trautenberg said.
He does believe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the process.
“The pandemic in a perverse way has actually been beneficial for us in that there are a number of very good financial people that have bandwidth right now,” Trautenberg said.
Working with the school board last week, Trautenberg was approved to set up a virtual finance team that includes three professionals in the area of forecasting, title reimbursement, accounting and strategy to work for the next 30-45 days with the existing finance team in the district.
“We’re doing a budget model that incorporates a five-year forecasting component, so we can really begin to understand going forward that we’re not just looking at next year, but the years after with good data,” Trautenberg said.
“I’m optimistic, and the board has been great to work with. They understand the magnitude of the effort.”
Trautenberg is targeting to get quarterly financials that have integrity by April 30.
“I’m not going to say we are going to be 100% confident, but if we can get to 85% of confidence that will be a good place to get to by the end of April, and then hopefully by the end of June we are at 90%.”
WALL STREET TO THE DISTRICT OFFICE
Trautenberg started his career in the financial services industry on Wall Street, where he worked for over 20 years.
“During that time I always had an interest in K-12 education,” Trautenberg said.
Inspired by the commencement address at his son’s college graduation, Trautenberg changed career paths.
He said it wasn’t easy for someone from the private sector to break into K-12, but after working as the CFO in Aurora Public School for three years, a stint with the New Orleans Public Schools and conducting a forensic review at Omaha Public Schools, his passion for skiing and fly-fishing drew him to look for jobs back in Colorado.
After he applied for a job with the Aspen School District, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates contacted Trautenberg about the position in Rifle.
“I spoke with the board and the interim superintendent, and we reached an agreement,” Trautenberg said. “I got worried they might shut down the airports, I literally got on a plane March 16 with my dog and we came here. My first day at the district was St. Patrick’s Day.”
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Carbondale Middle School has transitioned most of its fifth grade cohort, including students and teachers, to distance learning for the coming week due to a positive COVID-19 test.