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Gainesville city schools finance director loves hiking, piano

POSTED: November 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Janet Allison is the financial director for the city of Gainesville school system.

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It has been a long year for Janet Allison, who has served as the finance director for Gainesville schools since March.

Allison began working part-time in the school system’s finance department last fall. She began by helping the finance department implement a new computer software program to better track school system accounts.

"I knew there were some issues as far as software implementation ... that’s always a big thing, implementing new software," Allison said. "Then I started realizing there were bigger issues."

Just after Allison assumed the full-time finance director position for Gainesville schools on March 1, a firestorm of financial controversy ensued.

Upon scrutinizing school system accounts, Allison informed the school board and Steve Ballowe, who was superintendent of Gainesville schools at the time, that the school system was facing a multimillion-dollar deficit. The community was outraged. The board fired Ballowe in July with a 3-2 vote.

And once the finance department was able to get a good handle on system accounts, Allison estimated the Gainesville school system faced a $5.6 million deficit. To help the school system dig its way out of the deficit, the Gainesville school board implemented a 12 percent property tax increase this fall.

Many credit the start of the school system’s financial turnaround to Allison’s regular 80-hour workweeks and the five-person finance department staff’s dedication. But most city school system employees don’t know that while Allison wrestles numbers behind her desk, she dreams of hiking in Wyoming.

An accomplished pianist, the Hall County native said a good Saturday morning hike through the woods has helped her to lead the school system in muddling through the financial disaster.

"I love to hike and get outside. It’s mind-clearing to me," she said. "It’s good for the soul."

Allison also worked for Hall County schools in the human resources and accounting departments for a total of 20 years. In addition to her finance director position with Gainesville schools, she owns her own small accounting firm that provides tax services to individuals and small businesses.

Hailing from a musical family where two of her three siblings also sing, Allison said she spends her free time playing piano, organ and keyboards. But now she has a new goal.

"I really want to learn guitar," she said.

Those lessons likely will have to wait until the state finishes audits on the most recent budget in March, Allison said. She said by April, the school system will have a definite deficit figure with which to work.

"We’ll get there," Allison said. "It’s going to take a while, but we’ll get there."



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