State appoints new CSFO for Montgomery Public Schools

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Montgomery Public School Chief Administrative Officer Terry Roller confirmed the state has appointed Arthur Watts to be the new Chief School Financial Officer for the system. Roller said Watts started Monday

"There are some obligations that he's completing with his previous employment, but he has started," Roller said. "He's on the ground. He's examining budgets, he's looking at amendments, he's preparing for the next fiscal budget."

This is not Watts' first time dealing with MPS. Roller said he worked for the system back in 2016.

MPS has not had a permanent CSFO since Pamela Wooden was fired in September 2016 following issues with payroll. Wooden is involved in multiple lawsuits against the school board and specific members following her release from MPS.

Brenda Palmer stepped up to serve as the interim CSFO shortly after Wooden was let go, and the state also contracted Jason Taylor to work on the system's budget as well.

The Montgomery County Board of Education interviewed two candidates for the position back in May but decided to delay the decision after two of the original four candidates d ropped out. Board members said they wanted a larger pool of candidates. However, Roller said State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey decided the board had long enough to make its own decision and didn't.

Roller said Watts is a "rock star", which he said he knows firsthand because they worked together at Talladega City Schools where Roller was the superintendent before coming to MPS and Watts served as CSFO.

"He's a fantastic guy to work for," Roller said. "He's very knowledgeable about the process, great relationships with people, but he is a by-the-book guy. He is very focused on keeping only on what is state-funded on the books. It's cutting fat, leaning up but still giving resources to people so they can do their jobs."

Roller said having someone in the position who is able to be effective and objective with the numbers is important for a system that faces a financial deficit and is under state intervention, with finances as one of the factors. He said Watts has experience in working with budgets that fall short.

"He was the CSFO in Talladega," Roller said. "We operate with about a million dollar deficit budget. We looked at about 30 full-time employees, and we cut those in a year and recouped about a million bucks. So, the guy has experience in doing what he's being tasked to do now. He was previously in another large urban school district that had a 12 million dollar deficit, and he cut that."

Watts' salary, which will be paid for by MPS, is $148,500. Roller said the Montgomery County Board of Education has a deadline of Sept. 15 to submit its budget to the state. Prior to submitting the budget, the board is required to hold two public budget hearings. Roller said the dates for those meetings will be announced soon.

The Board did not meet the budget deadline for the current fiscal year, but he said Watts assured him the budget will be done in time for the next fiscal year.

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