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Got Bad Finances? Hire a Short-Timer, Like City Schools

Meet the man who has been managing the city school finances since the disastrous audits two years ago.

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Two years after series of audits uncovered gross financial mismanagement at the Richmond Public Schools, the system has yet to hire a permanent finance officer. Since November 2007, the district has paid a part-time contractor from Texas to fill in, at a cost of more than $180,000.

Tom Sheeran, the district's previous chief financial officer, resigned under pressure following audits and revelations that the district spent nearly $1 million for a new central computer server room with no approval from the School Board. The room wound up proving inadequate after a rainstorm. 

The district's finances have since been directed in part by Jim Damm, by all accounts a capable finance administrator, but a resident of Dallas, who is available by telephone or regularly flown — at the schools' expense — to Richmond to provide consultations.

As of August, Damm's compensation totaled $172,000, according to the school officials, but that figure increases each month. The figure also doesn't account for expenses such as meals, hotels and travel which have amounted to thousands of dollars, according to records obtained by Style Weekly.

Damm most recently provided guidance to the district on Mayor Dwight Jones' proposal to spend $150 million on new school construction, including rebuilding Huguenot High School. According to the consultant's presentation, the mayor's proposal would cost closer to $175 million.

Richmond continues to advertise the position nationally, Richmond Public Schools spokesman Alfonso Mathis confirms, and the district has “spoken with several interested parties” about filling the finance post permanently, but so far the search has been unsuccessful.

According to the spokesman, School Superintendent Yvonne Brandon most recently negotiated with a candidate “out of Chicago with family in the area,” but talks broke down when “he called back and asked for more money.”

Pressure on Brandon to find a replacement for Sheeran intensified after an August audit found almost $25,000 in stolen or misappropriated grants during a year ending in June 2007, along with nearly a half-million dollars in improperly bid contracts.
 
Sheeran was hired in July 2008 by Montgomery Community College in Maryland as its chief business officer.

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