Driver steps down as financial consultant

By Kendra E. Fish
The Daily Times-Call

Many viewed him as a knight in shining armor when he returned to the St. Vrain Valley School District in November to help it sort through its multimillion-dollar financial mess.

This sentiment grew when it was revealed that the former St. Vrain superintendent and assistant superintendent of business services would do it for only a $1 a month.

It is a sentiment the humble man would not have liked.

Now, Roger Driver, the district’s financial consultant, has quietly slipped away to make way for Mark Pillmore. The district’s new chief financial officer, Pillmore began his first full-time week Monday.

“Roger does not wish to take any credit or get special thanks,” Pillmore said. “He wants to go away quietly. He doesn’t want to be in the spotlight or anything like that.”

For the past two weeks, the Daily Times-Call has asked Driver for a final interview, but he has declined.

“He simply said, ‘I’m done,’” said Nancy Herbert, the district’s spokeswoman, when she approached him about an interview. “He said the transition needed to be made and that he needed to move forward. He’s handed the reins over to Mark now.”

According to Superintendent Randy Zila, Driver “doesn’t want anything to be in the paper and probably won’t want to read it.”

On Nov. 12, the district revealed it was facing a budget crisis. No one knew exactly how big the deficit was, but projections were more than $10 million.

During that week, Zila made a phone call to the one person he trusted to help the district out.

“I called Roger, and I think he was flipping burgers at the time,” Zila said Monday. “He said he just didn’t know.”

Herbert said that on Nov. 18, she saw Driver in the halls of the Educational Services Center and pleaded for his help.

“I said, ‘Roger, we’re in big trouble, and we really need your help,’” Herbert said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. I’ll let you know.’ In order to fix this problem, we needed someone that understood school budgeting and school finance. We also needed someone who understood St. Vrain’s budget. Not only that, but we needed someone we could trust.”

On Nov. 20, Driver announced he would rejoin the district on two conditions:

nHis assistant Joanne Harbert, who retired as the district’s director of finance in 1999, would have to rejoin him.

nHe would receive only $1 a month for his services.

“We never had a chance to offer him something more,” Zila said.

“It seemed too good to be true,” Herbert said.

In the weeks that followed, Driver and Harbert spent between 50 and 70 hours a week sorting through the budget mess.

While teachers and students spent their Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks with family and friends, Driver spent time in his unheated office crunching numbers and figuring out how the district would recover.

“That’s the thing that stands out most to me,” Herbert said, “the amount of time and the number of things and events and plans he and his wife had to put on hold and sacrifice.”

Since November, Driver has reworked the 2002-03 budget to account for the $13.8 million deficit; discovered purchases never accounted for — expensive copy machines and energy-savings equipment; and figured out a 2003-04 budget with an ending balance of $0.

“This is still not a good budget,” Driver said April 20, when he presented the budget to the board. “It’s balanced, but it’s not a good budget.”

This honest answer is typical of Driver and is much appreciated, according to many St. Vrain administrators who worked closely with Driver.

“Roger would tell you exactly what he knew and what he wasn’t sure about, and if he didn’t know the answer to a question, he would tell you how he was going to find out,” said Assistant Superintendent of Learning Services Russ Ramsey. “Sometimes we would question his findings, and he welcomed it as a chance to make sure things were right. He is an excellent steward of taxpayer money.”

Herbert said that if she just looked at Driver in a certain way, he would understand she needed help clarifying a certain financial question.

“Roger has teaching experience, and that’s been very helpful, especially to those that were challenged,” she said. “He was always clear and straightforward. I can’t remember a time in my career where I was ever in a position not to trust him.”

In the weeks that followed the announcement, Herbert — who is responsible for getting information out to the public — said she was “running an information office that was informationless.”

“He worked around the clock to help me out as well,” she said.

Ramsey said he will miss Driver’s quick response time to questions.

Zila said he will miss Driver’s sense of humor.

Presenting the 2003-04 budget to board members last month, Driver joked that he, like every other district employee, took a 7.125 percent pay cut this year, dropping his income to 92.875 cents per month.

Herbert said she’ll miss hearing him whistle in the halls.

“It was painful for him to see and hear the district under attack and under siege,” Herbert said. “He stood strong among all of this and defended the district. He was the reassuring voice. He was the strength. He was the one, along with Zila, who said we were going to make it through.”

Driver is “tying up a couple of loose ends this week,” Zila said. Other than that, he’s done.

Now the job, which has switched hands twice since November, is solely Pillmore’s.

“I’ve got a lot of learning to do,” Pillmore said. “I’m on the steep part of the learning curve. I’m looking forward to working with everybody.”

Pillmore said he will be attending meetings, reading documents and working on April’s financial statement.

“At this point, it is just about standard accounting processes,” he said. “I’m not at all nervous about Roger not being here. If I need Roger, he said he would make himself available for me.

“I just think the school district and the community owe Roger a great debt of gratitude.”

Kendra Fish can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at kfish@times-call.com.


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