Robert Morales, an advisory board member with the Center for State and Local Finance‘s executive education program, is nearly two months into his new job as Atlanta Public Schools‘ chief financial officer. And, the veteran finance leader, who also has served at Fulton County Schools and Cobb County Schools, said he’s excited about the challenge of a high-profile school district, where he will oversee total budgets of $996 million for the district. CSLF recently caught up with the husband and father of six (grandfather of two) to learn more about his goals for Atlanta Public Schools (APS), professional growth and how he balances work and life.
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1. What is your No. 1 priority in your new leadership position? Student achievement at Atlanta Public Schools, so every student can graduate ready for college or career.
2. In your capacity, what do you see as the biggest challenge and/or greatest opportunity for APS? Being able to provide the necessary resources so the school board and superintendent can meet their goals.
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3. You’ve had a long career in education finance and administration, including working at three metro-Atlanta school districts. Why have you chosen this path? I enjoy public service. The hours are long, the work is hard but I enjoy finding the means to achieve the goals of my school boards and superintendents.
4. You’ve risen to one of the most high-profile districts in the state, and the nation. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to others seeking to do the same with their career? Be open and honest with all individuals you work with in public finance. Sometime you have to deliver bad news…deliver it don’t hide it. The rewards of watching educational planning resulting in students’ graduations make it all worthwhile.
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5. Have you participated in professional development over the years, or had mentors? Both. You cannot succeed without mentors or professional development. I am not smart enough to know all aspects of my chosen career. I depend on professional development and my contacts with those I admire in governmental finance to help me through the complex issues.
6. Why is continuing education an important aspect of professional growth and public finance? My accounting degree opened the door for me to work in various financial capacities. Continuing education, whether in-house or through outside organizations (colleges, professional associations, or state agencies), provided me with the tools necessary to be successful as an auditor, audit manager, director of finance, director of state budgeting for the S.C. House of Representatives, and CFO of some small and large school districts.
7. Why did you become involved with the Center for State and Local Finance’s executive education program? I was fortunate to be invited to a networking event and became hooked.
8. Why should interested individuals enroll in CSLF’s executive education courses? The courses offered through CSLF have depth. The work in public finance is very complex and also very open to public scrutiny. Financial leadership and their staff need to be well trained in all aspects including budgeting, financial reporting, accounting, budgeting, debt management, disbursements (payroll and accounts payable) financial reporting, and procurement.
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9. How do you balance the demands of work and life? It is tough but we use the college football season to enjoy tailgating with our grandchildren and children at University of South Carolina home games. Weekends are very important personal times for us.