Ellen Sanborn, finance director for the city of Portland, has decided to end a 30-year career with the municipality to become chief financial officer for the Portland School Department.
Sanborn has worked closely with school officials in recent years. In 2007, she worked part time in the superintendent’s office for several months, overseeing the school budget in the wake of a $2 million deficit spending crisis that led to an administrative overhaul.
Sanborn will replace Mike Wilson, who is retiring after four years as the school district’s chief financial officer – a position that was created during a major administrative reorganization that followed the budget crisis.
Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said Sanborn emerged quickly as the top candidate among two finalists in a nationally advertised search.
“Ellen is a team player who has strong financial acumen, professional integrity and work ethic,” Caulk said. “She’s also very knowledgeable about both the city and the school budget processes and is well respected throughout the community.”
Caulk said Sanborn’s understanding of financing public school construction in Maine will come in handy as Maine’s largest school district launches several major building projects.
Caulk plans to announce Sanborn’s appointment at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Mike Wilson retires Sept. 1.
Sanborn assumes the post on Sept. 8. Her annual salary is expected to increase from $105,000 to $118,000. At the same time, her responsibilities will shrink from overseeing a 25-member staff and a combined $322.6 million municipal and school budget, to a smaller staff and a $101.6 million school budget.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Sanborn said of her job change. “I’ve been involved with the school department on and off for a while. I’ll miss the people I work with at City Hall, but I’ll still see them.”
Sanborn, who lives in Gorham, started as a senior accountant in Portland’s Public Works Department and moved to the Finance Department in the late 1980s. She was assistant finance director under former director Duane Kline for 15 years before she was appointed to the top position in 2008.
It was during her tenure as assistant director that Sanborn worked part time in the school department. A variety of financial and administrative problems emerged in early 2007 as city and school officials prepared budgets for the coming fiscal year.
A city council inquiry and an outside investigator revealed that school administrators ignored a council order to reduce the fiscal 2007 budget, withheld spending information from school board members and went ahead with hiring plans that left the district $2 million in the red. Both the superintendent and the school finance director at the time resigned as a result.
Following the budget controversy, the school department restructured its central office administration. Wilson, a lawyer and certified public accountant, was hired in 2010 to fill a new position of chief financial officer.
“Mike has done a super job for the system,” said Sarah Thompson, school board chairwoman. “He put a lot of processes in place to prevent future financial troubles. Ellen knows the players and the overall budget and has a strong financial background to move us forward.”
City Manager Mark Rees hopes to fill the finance director position by Oct. 1, said Jessica Grondin, city spokeswoman. Rees plans to hire a professional firm to conduct a national search, which could cost about $15,000 based on searches for similar city positions.
Suzanne Knight, the city’s assistant finance director, will serve as interim finance director until then.
Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or at: