New KP Finance Head Brings Confidence, Clarity

Grace Allen
Larry Azer, Director of Finance and Operations for KP schools.
Issue Date: 
February, 2018
Article Body: 

He’s been on the job for only seven months, but Larry Azer is already inspiring confidence in what has sometimes been a contentious process: the King Philip school budget.
As the new Director of Finance and Operations for KP, Azer is tasked with overseeing all aspects of the school district’s financial management. But it is his role in the budget process that has sparked a renewed sense of optimism for KP community members.
During last year’s budget cycle, distrust in the numbers and a perceived lack of communication around the budget issues raised concerns among parents, and led to the forming of the KP Community Working Groups (KPCWG), three parent committees focused on the district’s budget, community relations, and strategic planning.
“Larry is a step in the right direction,” said Kendra Kannally, a member of the KPCWG budget group and part of the search committee for a new finance director. “He’s very competent. He has great experience, he’s innovative, and he’s a good communicator.”
Before coming to KP, Azer was the Director of Finance and Operations at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District for close to seven years. His background also includes serving on the Randolph School Committee for ten years, as well as twenty years in the private sector.
Azer’s transition to working in education came naturally. Both his parents are public school teachers, as is his wife, and his brother served alongside him on the Randolph School Committee. When he was young, Azer would help his father set up his classroom every August, and as he got older, he would help him grade papers.
“I always say I come from a family of teachers but I’m not smart enough to be a teacher, so this is the next best thing,” said Azer. “I strongly value public education, and I figure this is how I can do my piece.”
With a master’s degree in public administration, Azer is certainly well-qualified for the role at KP, which will present challenges. According to Azer, there are thirteen regional districts in the state that include only middle and high school students. Twelve of those districts have only one superintendent for all grade levels from kindergarten through grade 12, achieved by establishing a superintendent union with the elementary districts in their member towns.
“KP doesn’t have that, so it adds another level of complexity,” said Azer. “KP is literally unique in the state.”
Azer describes his role in the budget process as gathering, collecting, and then sharing information. Working alongside the superintendent, the principals, and the director of special education, Azer will guide the district financially while helping it to prioritize its needs and wants.
“Every single item in the budget has to be tied to a goal somewhere, whether it’s a school improvement plan goal, district goal, or department goal,” he explained. “So my role is to be a sort of check and balance.”
Azer acknowledges the importance of transparency in the process.
“School budgets involve two things that are near and dear to people’s hearts: their tax dollars and their kids. And they want to know that you’re being a good steward for both.”
KPCWG community relations co-chair Scott Manchuso believes Azer will help close the credibility gap that has existed at the school during the budget process.
“Larry certainly brings confidence that he understands what’s going on in the budget, and that the numbers tie out as being properly managed,” said Manchuso.
Communicating and understanding the numbers during budget discussions, and follow-up on questions, will go a long way towards restoring public confidence, believes Manchuso.
Azer agreed. “If someone asks me a question, I’m never going to say ‘I don’t know.’ I might say, ‘I need to get back to you on that,’ because I may not have the information right in front of me. But ultimately you have to answer all the questions that are asked of you. That’s just the nature of the beast. The public has the right to ask questions, and to keep asking them through the spring.”
School Committee member Trevor Knott says Azer’s role is pivotal to the budget process.
“His job is not only to know the numbers but to tell the story with the numbers and then defend and listen and shape and then reshape the numbers as he gets input from the various constituencies, including the School Committee.”
Knott added that Azer brings the right mix of experience and business acumen to the role.
“Those of us in private industry are a little bit spoiled,” acknowledged Knott. “A well-run business has to have a good finance director. We went to Larry because we really valued his experience, coming from a regional district like ours. Right now is the time when we need that kind of experience, not just capabilities, but true experience. Someone who’s been there and done that, and was excited about doing it again in a new place and new setting, with perhaps some new challenges for him.”
According to Knott, the district, like most in the state, is facing significant, long-term issues, including rising health insurance costs and special education funding. Those trends, said Knox, can’t be stopped and put a lot of pressure on the budget.
Azer says he’s up for the challenge.
“You have to look at it like a puzzle,” he said. “When you get a puzzle that has 500 pieces, they all have to fit. You have to analyze things, be flexible, be creative. It’s been said that budgeting is as much an art as it is a science. It’s not just math.”
He adds, “But I’m not an educator by trade. So I work with the people that know more than I do….the principals, the superintendent. They know the practical piece of it, and I bring in the nuts and bolts. We’ll bounce ideas off each other until we can come up with something that works.”
KP budget discussions take place during School Committee meetings, and the public is welcome. The School Committee meets twice a month at 7 p.m. in the high school library. For more information, visit