New chief finance officer for Philly schools worked with Hite before

Posted: November 22, 2012

The beleaguered Philadelphia School District is getting a new chief financial officer, a young executive with strong recommendations - but one who left his last school district amid questions over a big check cut to a departing official.

Matthew Stanski, 34, rose to the top finance job in the Prince George's County, Md., school system under new Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

He starts in the same job in Philadelphia on Monday, at a $175,000 salary.

Hite, in an interview, said that he knew as soon as he was hired in Philadelphia that he wanted to recruit Stanski, who has experience in closing large deficits and schools, weighted student funding formulas, and overseeing staff reductions - all issues he will confront here.

But also knew about Stanski's connection to a recent controversy at the Prince George's system, and made the School Reform Commission aware of it, too.

"When I knew that there was nothing inappropriate on the part of Matt, I moved forward," Hite said. "I'm thrilled to get someone with Matt's talents and skills here to do this work."

The Prince George's County controversy centers on an unauthorized payment made to Synthia Shilling, the former human resources chief.

Top-level sources in Prince George's County and Philadelphia said Stanski executed an agreement negotiated by Prince George's general counsel.

The amount paid for accumulated sick and vacation leave was correct, the sources said, but should have been given over several weeks. It instead was given in a lump sum.

Both Stanski and chief legal counsel Roger Thomas were dismissed, the Washington Post reported, but ultimately, Stanski was allowed to resign, Prince George's officials confirmed. He did so Sept. 27.

Sources in both districts say Stanski's stumble was precipitated by bad blood over Hite's departure, Hite's attempt to recruit Stanski, and Stanski's defection.

A spokesman for Prince George's County Public Schools, however, disputed that there were hard feelings.

Feather O. Houstoun, chairwoman of the School Reform Commission's finance committee, was one of several people to interview Stanski and other CFO candidates.

Houstoun said she met with a number of candidates before Stanski, none of whom was up to the job - the district faces enormous budget problems, including a deficit of up to $1 billion over five years if uncorrected.

She said she knew about the Stanski controversy, both from reading about it and from Hite, and was satisfied that he was the right person for the job. She spoke with both Hite and Stanski about it.

"I didn't find it disabling in a candidate who, on the face of it, was extremely competent in all the qualities I had in mind," Houstoun said. "I know how things like that play out in organizations."

The Philadelphia Daily News on Wednesday first reported Stanski's appointment, but, citing sources, that report indicated that Philadelphia officials had backed Stanski until the Prince George's incident surfaced.

Hite and multiple sources disputed that.

There was a pause in the search, sources said, but it was not because Philadelphia officials were caught off guard by controversy.

The delay was caused in part by issues with the national search that was going on for the CFO job, the sources said, and also because everyone involved wanted to make sure there were no improprieties on Stanski's part.

Hite said that when he first approached Stanski, he was reluctant to come to Philadelphia - in part because he has small children and was not looking to relocate.

Hite said he pressed Stanski while the search continued, with no suitable candidates forthcoming.

Hite said there was no indecision. "Quite frankly, once Matt was vetted by everyone else, then we moved very quickly to try to convince him to come to Philadelphia," he said.

Thomas Knudsen, a turnaround specialist and former Philadelphia chief recovery officer, has overseen the district's finances since January. He also vetted Stanski and said in a statement that he was more than impressed.

"It would be very difficult to find someone as tailored to a position as Mr. Stanski is to his new job," Knudsen said. "I couldn't recommend him more highly."

Knudsen's contract expires this week, but he will remain with the district two days a week for up to eight weeks, Hite said, to help Stanski with the transition. Knudsen's compensation has not yet been determined.

Hite said that he knew Philadelphia has been battered by prior district scandals, and that he considered that in his decision to hire Stanski.

Mayor Nutter's chief education officer, Lori Shorr, said she, Nutter, and city Finance Director Rob Dubow also met Stanski and were impressed.

"We believe that what happened in his former employment was a result of interpersonal politics and not anything more than that," Shorr said. "We trust the judgment of Dr. Hite."

And ultimately, sources said, it was Hite's call.

Donna Beck Hathaway, a Prince George's board member, said she was sorry to see Stanski leave. He took a district that had long had problems with finance - Prince George's had been fined by the state in audits of its books - and did wonders, she said.

"He was just fabulous," said Hathaway, a board member for six years. "I was somewhat nervous when Matt was elevated to CFO, because of his age, but the more I worked with him, the more I was impressed. Matt's work was of the quality that everyone felt comfortable."


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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