Member Spotlight from January 18, 2018
Arnett Harvey always had an interest in business and a knack for numbers, but it was not until he found himself unexpectedly back at home caring for an ailing parent during his senior year of college that he found his way into the school business profession.
Before Harvey had even graduated, he began working as a junior accountant in a school district in Chesterfield, Missouri. He spent almost five years at the Parkway School District then moved into the banking industry where he made bank officer in a year’s time. After running into an acquaintance who was an auditor for the local school district, Harvey learned that they were looking for a school business manager. His philosophy on the decision: “When someone knocks on the door, you should open it.”
In 1989, Harvey joined Edwarsville School District in Illinois as business manager. After two years, he was promoted to chief financial officer. He spent five years at Edwarsville, earned a master’s degree at Washington University, and then moved to Cahokia Unit School District 187 in 1995, where he has spent the past 22 years.
Cahokia School District, located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, enrolls 3,700 students today, but back in 1995 when Harvey began, the district served 5,200 students. “Since then, the community has lost several businesses. With the economy and other changes, many companies moved out of our community and out of the state,” Harvey explains.
Harvey’s early years at Cahokia were not without challenge either. “The district was in a huge transition demographically,” Harvey remembers. “Along with that came many socio-economic concerns. Based on that, we inherited lots of other problems, such as attendance problems.”
In 1999, the district was struggling tremendously to keep kids in school, and Harvey helped spearhead a campaign to combat the issue. “We came up with an educational incentive program for attendance that was quite successful,” Harvey says. As a result of the program, average attendance increased from 80%–85% to 95%, generating additional revenues for the school district in excess of $3 million. “It outpaced the cost of the program,” he explains. The program was so successful the district won the Gentry Partnership Award in 2000.
Harvey’s leadership in the Cahokia School District has ensured that the district remains in the black even during difficult times, such as when the state has not passed a budget or when unpopular budget cuts are necessary. He offers this advice to young school business officials looking to have a successful career: “Networking is extremely important.”
Harvey credits connections made through ASBO International with helping him get the information he needed to serve a smaller school district. “If you can find resources from professionals, you quickly learn the things that will help you sustain and grow,” he says. Harvey particularly recommends ASBO International’s annual meeting. “Everyone is sitting in a room thinking ‘my problems are the worst ones.’ And then you learn there are similarities across the country. Every state has a funding issue…you need to get in the think tank in those rooms. There’s help out there.”