By David McCabe
Last month Janet Verneuille, Sag Harbor School District’s director of business operations, gave notice to the school board that she would be resigning her position and taking a job in the private sector.
On Monday, the Sag Harbor School Board moved to replace Verneuille by appointing John O’Keefe to the position during a special session. O’Keefe is currently serving as the director of business operations at the Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset, N.Y. He has served in that position for three years.
When the Sag Harbor School District put out the notice it was looking for a new business manager, 48 applications were received for the position said Dr. John Gratto, school superintendent. Last week, the final two candidates were interviewed by Dr. Gratto, the district’s auditor and a local CPA. On Monday, Dr. Gratto officially made his recommendation to the board that they hire O’Keefe.
Dr. Gratto noted that O’Keefe is a certified human resources manager, and expressed hope that he will help the district streamline many of its HR practices.
O’Keefe has not always been involved in education. His first experience in business was managing some operations for a car dealership. He decided, though, that he wanted to make a change and went back to school to earn his MBA.
It was during this time that he developed an interest in the business side of education.
“I was really looking for a challenge that was as rewarding as it was challenging,” he said. “I fell in love with the ideals of education.”
That instinct — to do good — took him to the Mercy Home for Children, where he served as controller. The Mercy Home is a Brooklyn-based organization that services the needs of developmentally disabled people.
When he moved to the Cleary School, which has a little over 100 students, he says he made a point of getting to know the educators whose finances he was managing.
“I enjoy being a part of it, even here at Cleary, although my requirements aren’t to be involved in education I spend a lot of time with the educators,” he said, noting that he serves on a variety of academic committees at the school. He says this involvement gives him greater insight into the programs he is administering.
“When it is budget time and we’re talking about different programs, I know what that program is,” he said.
Since starting work at Cleary, O’Keefe has been in school to receive a certification in administering school districts like Sag Harbor’s. As part of this program, O’Keefe has been interning at the Three Village School District. It was his supervisor there who first told him that the Sag Harbor position was available.
O’Keefe said the challenges he’s faced at Cleary are similar to those he will face in Sag Harbor.
“The biggest challenge in every district now is trying to work within the confines of the two percent tax gap,” he said, noting that though Cleary is an independent school, he has been responsible for dealing with cuts in state funding to the school.
Cleary and Sag Harbor UFSD also have another thing in common: they are both relatively small. While a larger district like Three Village’s may have a large business office, O’Keefe will be responsible for almost all operations in Sag Harbor.
Dr. Gratto also said that he was attracted to O’Keefe’s wide-ranging business experience when selecting him for the position.
“He has point-on experience as a school business official running all aspects of a school business office,” he said.
O’Keefe starts his new job with the district on July 10.