published: Friday, January 04, 2013
Getting to know you
Getting to know you
GREG JONES | Staff Writer
New Lake County School Board member Bill Mathias, founder of the Leesburg-based Mathias Foodservice Equipment Company, has a lot on his plate.
Mathias started his business with $5,000 more than 30 years ago. It has grown to become a success story and Mathias, sworn in a few weeks ago on the school board, hopes this experience will help him with big plans he has for the coming two years.
"I know the value of a dollar, the value of hard work and the value an education, because, without that, I would still be working for somebody," Mathias said. "I'm not saying everyone can have their own business, but education gives you an opportunity to own a business. That is why education is my focus."
Now, after a profitable business career, the accomplished entrepreneur wants to take his same private-sector approach of planning, budgeting, compromise and hard work to the school board. More importantly, he wants to help the district move from a "B" district to an "A" district.
He also wants to save the school district $3.8 million by cutting the top administers' pay by 10 percent. Teachers, service workers and those making less than $45,000 won't be touched.
Mathias said cutting top salaries was an approach he used during recessions in both 1991 and 2009, which allowed him to avoid layoffs at his company. He said he doesn't believe the pay cut is unreasonable, and it a sign of good faith to taxpayers who are struggling during a recovering economy.
School members, who make about $35,000 a year, will have to take the lead," Mathias said, adding he hopes top school administrators will accept cuts as well. The goal is to reduce the school board budget by $3.8 million with pay cuts alone, he said.
Another challenge Mathias is gearing up for is helping Lake County to become an "A" district. The state is moving from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to the Common Core State Standards in 2014.
Mathias said the standards will be higher under Common Core, and teachers won't teach to a test, meaning students will be required to do more critical thinking. But Mathias said the change was the right thing to do. He believes working with the other board members will allow the district to meet those demands. He praised Lake County Superintendent Susan Moxley and the other board members for their knowledge and diverse backgrounds.
Board member Tod Howard said he believes Mathias' business background can add to the board. Howard said he and Mathias have similar business backgrounds and it will be interesting to see the newest board member in action.
"He is a successful business man, and he has worked with school boards before," Howard said. "From my understanding, his interests lay in work complicity and to improve our career technical education, so that is where his focus will probably be because he has done that before with private schools, and that is going to be welcomed.
"And, as a successful business owner, he will bring that ability and experience to the board. I think he will be a welcome addition to the board."
County Commissioner Tim Sullivan said the school board is getting a "quality individual" in Mathias. He said the man's experience can benefit the board and help enhance education in Lake County.
"He is a highly successful businessman, and he started his business from scratch," Sullivan said. "Bill has been around for 30 years, and he is an excellent businessman. He is a quality individual, and he is a Florida native, and he cares about our youth."
Mathias said he is well aware that Sumter County has a school rating of "A," and said Lake County officials can sit down with their counterparts there and find out what they are doing to see if it can be adapted here.
In a few short years, Lake County could be looking at a $10 million budget shortfall because the penny sales tax is set to expire in 2017, Mathias said. Now is the time to address the problem because the school district cannot afford to borrow money, he said.
"We can't go into debt again..." Mathias said. "We need to have a sustainable strategic plan on how we are going to grow. Recessions don't last forever, and we are going to recover from this one, and we better have a plan."