Matt Sullivan, VISD’s financial chief, departs for new job

Matt Sullivan, who for the past eight years has served as Vashon Island School District’s (VISD) executive director of business and operations, has resigned from his job after accepting an offer to become Mercer Island School District’s new executive director of finances and operations.

In his role at VISD, Sullivan supervised and managed the non-academic operations of the district’s departments which included finance and administration, facilities and food service.

The long list of his duties in this capacity included accounts payable/receivable, accounting, contracting, budgeting, personnel, policies, legal, insurance-risk management, enrollment, hiring, labor negotiations, grants, audits, capital projects and state and federal reporting.

In an email, Sullivan shared a message he had sent to colleagues, announcing his departure.

“I, my family, do not take this decision lightly,” he wrote. “It has been a difficult decision to make; to leave the people I work with, co-workers, my directors and managers, my team(s), and our students. Please know, I would’ve liked nothing more than to have ended my public sector career here. I have always believed that public service is a high calling and one that exists to provide for and serve others.”

Sullivan has strong ties to Vashon — he and his wife moved here in 1998; his wife had been raised on the island. The Sullivans currently plan to continue living on Vashon. Their 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter are both students in VISD.

Asked by The Beachcomber about both the highlights and challenges of his job, Sullivan detailed the progress he felt the district had made under his tenure as executive director.

“Upon starting with VISD, the finances and operations were simply a mess,” Sullivan wrote. “Prior to my arrival there were findings with our audits, communications and relations with our internal staff, admin, unions, the board and external customers and partners was very poor, and our financial operations — e.g. grants, contracts, accounting and budgeting — was chaotic. Over the past eight years, we’ve ameliorated all of those issues. I’ve had the great pleasure to hire, work with and serve — service being the key — a wonderful team of directors, managers, and staff members…they are amazing people and I am truly thankful for all of their work and effort.”

In the spring, after a reduction of force (RIF) package was approved by the school board as a measure to cure a $1.2 million projected deficit in VISD’s 2022-23 budget, McSheehy said he had tasked Sullivan with spearheading a three-year solvency plan for the district to deal with the impacts of decreased enrollment and continued shortfalls in the way the state funds basic education in the state.

Last week, McSheehy announced that he had engaged a consultancy from the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) to conduct an independent fiscal review of VISD’s business and human resources departments, as part of the planning and information gathering process for the solvency plan. McSheehy said he had accepted WASA’s recommendation of Jake Kuper, former financial chief of the Issaquah School District, to conduct the review.

In response to Sullivan’s departure, Superintendent Slade McSheehy has announced that he does not intend to fill Sullivan’s position, due to the district’s current financial constraints.

In an interview, McSheehy said that VISD is currently making “big decisions” around decreasing enrollment, ongoing shortfalls from the state in terms of how it funds basic education, and the fact that the district will no longer have the cushion of federal pandemic relief funding after this budget year’s allotment of that money — approximately $500,000 — is spent.

“The decision not to fill this position is directly in response to these three variables,” McSheehy said, adding that he will assume Sullivan’s directorial roles in the areas of facilities, food services and transportation. Funds budgeted from Sullivan’s salary — $147,211 plus benefits — will be restored to the general fund, he said.

McSheehy also said that he has promoted staffer Kay Adams, who as the district’s finance director worked closely with Sullivan, to a new position as the district’s director of business and finance. Adams, he said, will lead the district’s upcoming bond levy measure for capital improvements, expected to be approved by the board in October and put before voters in February 2023.

Three bond measures are now under consideration — $16.4 million, $19.5 million, and $27.5 million — to pay for various capital improvements to the district’s school buildings and grounds.

McSheehy expressed gratitude to Sullivan for his service to the district, saying that during Sullivan’s “eight exemplary years” at VISD, he had provided support for all of VISD’s different operations.

“I know that everyone he supports is going to miss him,” he said, adding that he believed Sullivan would bring strong skills and experience to Mercer Island’s larger school district.

One year ago, Sullivan wrote a commentary for The Beachcomber, detailing that during his tenure, VISD had achieved eight clean or perfect state audits of its finances.

“The pandemic created additional challenges in managing the district finances over the last 19 months,” he wrote. “These challenges were varied, from a plethora of accounting changes required by the state to account for COVID-related expenses, delays in funding, a declining enrollment, and even having a remote (distanced) audit.”

Tax dollars, he said, were critical to the district’s mission and it was his job to document that these funds were spent within the guidelines of both state and federal laws.

“We take our jobs seriously as stewards of our community’s trust and this means we count every penny,” he said.

This article was updated on Aug. 18.