Vargas receives second award for financial work

Michelle Vargas, Anoka-Hennepin’s chief financial officer (CFO), was named the 2012 CFO of the Year by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Vargas won the award for the nonprofit civic/cultural/education category.

Earlier this fall, Varags was named one of the “Top Women in Finance” by Finance & Commerce. Vargas was nominated for both awards by Mary Olson, director of Communication and Public Relations, who works closely with Vargas.

“Michelle Vargas has provided the leadership that has brought the state’s largest school district, with a total budget of more than $480 million, from the brink of a catastrophic deficit of $60 million or more to the position of having a projected general fund balance for fiscal year (FY) 2013 of $39.3 million, which is 9.5 percent of expenditures,” Olson wrote. “Michelle has accomplished this remarkable turnaround in a year despite the fact that state funding for education has not kept pace with cost increases for approximately eight years. In addition, the district ended the last fiscal year with a surplus of more than $11 million as the result of a number of small efficiencies she implemented.”

A graduate of Coon Rapids High School, Varga told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that she was the first four-year college graduate on her father’s side. Vargas worked her way through college and said she would not be where she is today without that achievement. Vargas earned a B.S. in business with an emphasis in accounting from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

In addressing her accomplishment in providing fiscal responsibility and economic balance to the district budget, Vargas referenced the balancing act that is required.

“In public education, the bottom line is where resources are maximized to fund educational resources, while maintaining financial stability,” she said. “Cost avoidance and efficiencies in the public sector are similar to revenue generation in the private sector. A keen understanding of funding, long-term costing and cost-avoidance measures is essential to keep a devoted eye on the bottom line in public education.”

Vargas was praised for her work to refinance district debt to take care of lower interest rates and investing one-time federal American Recovery Reinvestment Act dollars and Education Jobs revenue in a way that would make the biggest impact on the district. With two children in Anoka-Hennepin Schools, Vargas also shared this insight on her work.

“Being a CFO requires knowledge beyond the financials,” Vargas said. “In order to truly make an impact as a CFO, you must fully understand the mission and operations of the business you are leading financially. In public education, there are many non-financial factors that are continuously monitored.

“Seeing our preschoolers walk in with backpacks larger than them, and their huge smiles, is a daily reminder of the important work I do.”