SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Longtime Scotch Plains-Fanwood SPFK12 school district's business administrator Debbie Saridaki, who prepares the $100+ million annual budget and oversees the business functions of the district, is retiring at the end of the academic year in June.
The business administrator said her decision to retire really had little to do with COVID. Her husband retired this year and told her that he wanted to have a few years to do things they always wanted to do.
"It's just a natural retirement time," she said in a phone interview with TAPintoSPF.
Saridaki admitted that COVID has made the job challenging. The business administrator is responsible for buildings and grounds and assisted with the ventilation issues and had to make sure cleaning protocols were established. She also had order PPE and make sure classes had them.
"There were things we never had to do before and expenses that we did not have to spend before. We had some savings, but there were additional costs, too," she explained. "COVID preparations cost us more than the state grants provided."
Saridaki, who started with the district in 2007 and has been the business administrator since 2012, handles budget preparation and administration, payroll and health benefits, negotiations, risk management, purchasing, state reports, grants, transportation, food service, school plant operations, and facility planning. A CPA, she worked for two years in the Cranford school district before coming to Scotch Plains. She thanked Anthony Del Sordi, who brought her over to Scotch Plains-Fanwood and mentored her. Saridaki obtained her New Jersey School Business Administrator Certificate, which qualified her for the job, after joining the district.
"I am grateful for the time that I have had with Debbie, I have learned so much," said SPFK12 schools superintendent Dr. Joan Mast. "She is leaving a remarkable legacy that includes, a high school culinary arts kitchen, increased air conditioning in classrooms, full-day kindergarten, field lights, new turf fields, well maintained buildings and campuses, and so much more."
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood SPFK12 school budget is a more than $100 million annually. Saridaki said it takes months to prepare, and the preliminary budget for next year will be presented at the next Board of Education meeting on March 11, 2021.
"We meet with supervisors and principals and put the numbers together. It can be very challenging if your income doesn't match your expenses. This year was going to be challenging, but we received state aid," Saridaki. "We are required to provide to the state, the salaries of every staff member. The cost of benefits comes from our brokers. We get itemized list for funding requests from principals, even for small amounts. I'm a 'numbers person,' so it's not as hard as you think."
Saridaki was able to make some accommodations for COVID, including devices for every child in the district, this year because of some cost savings from last year.
"We worked deals with the transportation companies when we didn't have school busing for the last three months of the school year, so we used that savings to help pay for the iPads and computers," she explained. "Being able to grant requests from principals and supervisors, that is rewarding to me."
The business administrator said her goal was to try to improve the environment for staff and students, including painting classrooms, having things in working order, and redoing some faculty rooms to make them more cheery.
"Environment has a lot to do with your mood. I wanted to improve the environment for people," she said.
"For the past 12 years, Debbie has dedicated her life to serving the district. She has often worked on weekends and late into the evening. For the past 8 years, she has earned a solid reputation among New Jersey Business Administrators. She has a level of expertise in school finance that is widely respected," Dr. Mast added. "I know for sure that Debbie’s family will now be able to enjoy more quality time together making new lifetime memories."
So what is Saridaki's advice for her future successor?
"I would say have broad shoulders and a thick skin. No matter what you do, you can never make everyone happy," Saridaki said. "One thing I love about the district is that everyone works as a team. It's a great district, very collaborative. The parents want the best for the children. We want the same thing."
The SPFK12 district has begun the search for Debbie Saridaki's replacement. Qualified candidates should possess a valid New Jersey School Business Administrator Certificate and Qualified Purchasing Agent Certification (or willingness to earn it within the first 12 months of employment). Candidates must understand the principles and practices of financial accounting and reporting procedures and should have experience with school-community relations and Board of Education operations.
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