Get to know Robert Franklin: The man tasked with fixing RCSD’s finances

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Pink Floyd is his favorite band, and he says he's more than "a hatchet man"

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester City School District has announced its new Chief Financial Officer.

Robert Franklin was approved as the district’s new CFO by the Board of Education Tuesday night. He’ll fill the role of RCSD’s former CFO, Everton Sewell, who resigned last month.

Franklin will start his work officially on January 2, 2020 — and he’ll have to hit the ground running. The district is currently working to fix a $30 million budget shortfall.

RCSD Superintendent Terry Dade has already publicly endorsed a district-wide staff reduction of up to 5%, and last week RCSD announced that two deputy superintendents would be let go as part of district’s “restructuring process.”

CFO is not a new title for Franklin, who currently serves in the same position for Monroe County, a job he’s held since he was appointed in 2013 by then-county executive Maggie Brooks. Current Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo called Franklin an “integral” part of her team.

“From consecutive tax rate cuts to four credit rating upgrades in three years, we’ve made the County’s fiscal health a top priority and I’m proud of what we accomplished together. Bob is a tremendous fit for his new role with the Rochester City School District and I wish him the very best.”

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo.

Dinolfo said Franklin prioritized responsible budgeting practices like early payments on pension amortizations, reduction of the two-year forecasted structural deficit, and holding spending below the rate of inflation.

Franklin is a Webster native, graduating from R.L. Thomas High School in 2003. He started off at MCC, then got his accounting degree from SUNY Geneseo. He went back to Brockport for his Masters in Public Administration, also studying biology and chemistry.

Before starting with the county in 2003, he worked for two and a half years as an accountant. His first job with the county was in the purchasing office.

One-on-one with the RCSD CFO:

Dan Gross — What have you learned at any level of public accounting that would be applicable to this new job?

Robert Franklin — As I told the Superintendent in my job interview, one thing I’ve grown accustomed to is being able to bridge the gap between program and finance. It’s not easy, but I think my time in the health and human services arena. They were relatively smaller, non-for-profit agencies, but I was always able to develop pretty good working relationships with the program managers and help them understand accounting, so I can better help them meet their goals.

DG — So how does that apply to RCSD?

RF — I’m an accountant, I’m a bean counter, but I think the best way I help our program managers — whether it’s with the county or with soon to be in the RCSD — is meeting with the school principals, all the managers in the district to understand what their needs are. I say no quite a bit, but I try not to say “no” to everyone, rather: “no, but.” And then have a conversation about what can we do.

DG — Knowing that you’re coming into this job with the budget gap, why did you want to take this job?

RF — The short answer to that is simply that I’ve had a career where I’ve gone into less than clean situations, and I have been able to help the manager of the organization or the managers. Monroe County has had its share of financial troubles, and I’ve been able to help them both in the social services department and in the finances department, and I see really no difference with the city school district.

DG — Sounds like it could be a rewarding job.

RF — Absolutely I see this as a rewarding job. I wouldn’t have taken the chance on meeting the superintendent. Who, by the way, didn’t have to work hard to convince me to come work here. He is a straight-talker, and a man who wants to get things done. And I would love to support him in his own vision for making this a successful school district.

DG — How would you address someone who is worried their job might be danger?

RF — I think everyone is concerned. Whether that is rightly, wrongly, or indifferent, I’m not here to judge that. I will say I’m more than just a hatchet man. I’m not here to slash and burn the school district’s budget, I’m here to learn how accounting can work with the schools to help them take the pressure off their concerns, so they can worry about education, and let me worry about the accounting.

DG — Let’s go more in-depth about the actual process of making up this shortfall.

RF — I hope you can appreciate that right now my job right now is to do homework, and what’s a school district without homework? My homework is to download this district’s annual financial statements for the past year, and some prior years, and to download their annual operating budgets, so I can better understand what has been happening in the school district financially, so I can ask more relevant questions of the finance staff here today so that we can forge a better plan in the future.

DG — As a Rochester native, what’s one thing you like to do in the city?

RF — It’s been three years, but I love going to Nick Tahou’s for a garbage plate. There is no other experience in Rochester than Nick Tahou’s downtown.”

DG — We love discussing music in our newsroom, so we have to ask … Who’s your favorite band of all time.

RF — People might get mad, but remember, my brothers and sisters are a lot older than I am — I love Pink Floyd.

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