Front & Center: Michele Trongaard
If you don’t work in the field of school business in Texas, it’s understandable that you might not know who our guest today is. But within the Lone Star State, inside school business offices, her credentials and experience speak for themselves, and she was kind enough to share some of her thoughts for our “Front & Center” series, in which we highlight school administration rock stars and the work they’re doing.
Michele Trongaard is the Associate Superintendent of Business and Finance at Mansfield ISD. After working in the corporate accounting world, she is now beginning her 20th year in public education. Here are just a few of the notable moments in her career:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Registered Texas School Business Administrator (RTSBA), and an Administrator in School Finance and Operations (SFO)
- Bachelor’s in Accounting from the University of Texas at Dallas, and Master’s degree from Concordia University in School Finance and Operations
- President of the Texas Association of School Business Officials in 2020
- Pilot member of the Government Finance Officers Assocation’s Alliance for Excellence in School District Budgeting
- Recipient of the Association of School Business Officials’ 2019 Pinnacle Achievement Award for School Business Innovation
- One of the first in Texas to use Frontline Education’s Analytics suite (formerly known as Forecast5)
Michele is married to Jeff with a blended family of six children whose occupations include Membership Coordinator for nationwide sonographers, medical dosimetrist, computer software engineer at Microsoft, IB 3-D Art teacher at Uplift Education in Dallas, one pursuing animal research while working on her masters, and one in her last year of nursing school at the University of Texas at Arlington. She’s excited to become a grandma in December, and with another grandchild on the way in March! Besides being with her family, her favorite things to do are traveling, hiking, teaching and reading.
What was your first job in education?
My very first job in public education began in 2003 as an Accountant for Wylie ISD, located in a fast-growing suburb of Dallas, Texas. I served in the roles of Payroll and Benefits Manager, Director of Finance, and Chief Financial Officer, and now am Associate Superintendent of Finance and Operations. I’m that annoying one that has always asked questions about why something was done a certain way. Now, I can give back by answering those questions others are asking.
If you could give any advice to yourself at the beginning of your career, what would it be?
Listen more and talk less!
What is one skill every CFO in K-12 should have?
Hire the right people! I could not do my job without having the right team in the right place. I have been fortunate to hire some extremely talented people.
What is the value of seeking a mentor as a school district CFO or Business department leader? Who have been your mentors over the years?
Seeking a mentor is an absolute must in the school business official’s world. I have been grateful to connect with many other peers through the Texas Association of School Business Officials’ training and community forums that allow me to run ideas and collaborate to find the best solutions. My mentors have included Dr. Kimberley Cantu, Dr. Sean Scott, Donald Williams, Jeff Brogden, David Wright, Jennifer Young, Dr. Jennifer Stoecker, Dr. Jeannie Stone, Karen Smith, Randy McDowell, David Pate, Dr. David Vinson, Dr. Kim Spicer, Mr. Scott Winn, Amy Boerner, Brian Miller, Omar Garcia, Amanda Brownson, Janèt Spurgeon, Dr. Karen Wiesman, Dr. Tracy Ginsburg, Becky Bunte, David Marx, Elaine Cogburn, Jennifer Land, Shay Adams, Dr. Jennifer DuPlessis, Brent Ringo, Byron Bryant, Darrell Dodds, Brian Carter, Scott Wreher, Robb Welch, Katie Bowman, Brenda Mize, Diana Sircar, Kimberly Smith, Julie Novak, Monica Irvin, Ed Harper, Sheryl Moulden, Lindy Finley, Wes Eversole, Brenda Richmond, Kelly Penny, Bill Sutter, Claire Hertz, Carol MacLeod, Matt Bubness, Shayne Kavanagh, John Hutchison, Travis Zander… gosh, I think I could keep on going for hours and I’m sure I’ve left several off.
How does using data and analytics help you plan for and address challenges in your school district?
Using data and analytics helps to ensure I am maximizing our funds while being a good steward of our taxpayer dollars. Not only does it help monitor by function and object code, it can identify the outliers when benchmarking with peer districts as well as projections for the current fiscal year and budget planning. An outstanding feature when I teach with Travis Zander from Frontline Education is sharing their State of the District story and Economic Profile. Having those discussions about what makes up those numbers, and knowing if it is something the district should look into, is priceless. It tells their own story — and no two stories are exactly alike!
What is the best creative idea you have had as a CFO that has made a difference in your role?
Getting out from behind my desk and visiting principals at campuses! Sharing specific data analytic reports in Comparative Analytics from enrollment history, test scores with cost per student grid amongst their peers, and budget by object code over the years is extremely valuable. Having that dialogue about finance and academics to see if there are any concerns and what support is needed, along with building those relationships, has been one of my best strategies as a CFO.
What will change most in education over the next 10 years?
Innovation! Without a doubt, technology will change and continue to change how we all learn and operate as a school district. I always think of the Jetsons when thinking about the future. Does that mean a student will be able to push a button in the cafeteria and have the food just appear? Hopefully, they’ll still receive a smile in the delivery of that food that our Student Nutrition staff does.
What are you most hopeful about for the future of education?
That our future generations will learn faster than us and be the ones to take care of us. They will find those solutions that are still missing: a cure for cancer, addressing climate change, tackling mental health problems, and making the world a peaceful place for all.