At Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, Avi Urbas, Director of Finance and Operations at Manchester Essex Regional School District, announced he will leave the district after 15 years for the private sector.
Urbas arrived at MERSD in 2009 when it was a young regional school district lacking many of the systems and reporting necessary for a mid-sized regional school district. He changed that and became known for a quiet, deliberate, steady work style.
Urbas has needed that steady style in the last decade and a half. The role often placed him between the towns of Manchester and Essex, each pushing for different ideas about the cost and quality of public education. Urbas was also a central player in the $52.2 million, 77,000-sf Manchester Memorial School building project, completed on time and slightly under budget in 2021 and required navigation of specialized finance and the arcane complexities of government grant funding.
Urbas’ last day of work was Tuesday, the day of the SC meeting, which also had on its agenda a first look at the MERSD’s “Tentative FY25 Budget.” “This job has been very challenging and fun and varied,” Urbas said Tuesday. “But the relationships have made it special as I wouldn’t have expected as a ‘numbers guy.’”
Those relationships were on full display Tuesday, with a robust showing of former School Committee members, chairpersons, and committee members publicly marking Urbas’ service. Among them, Susan Coviello (Essex), Susan Beckmann (Manchester), Sarah Wolf (Essex), Ben Buttrick (Essex), Caroline Weld (Manchester), Sarah Creighton (Manchester), Annie Cameron (Essex), and Alva Ingaharro (Essex).
One by one, they got up, praising Urbas’ service to the district, saying that despite heated challenges reconciling budget inputs from Essex and Manchester, Urbas always brought a competent, generous hand to work.
“You have saved us so many times, both towns,” said Annie Cameron, who served several terms on the School Committee starting with regionalization. She thanked Urbas before choking up and stopping.
Former SC Chair Susan Beckmann said Urbas’ personal character brought value to the district. But bringing the district’s finances into line, she said, is “the legacy you’ll leave.”
Along with MERSD Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin, Urbas has been the tip of the spear for putting forth the school district’s annual budget. This process has become increasingly heated. It hit a high point last year when Essex voters failed to support a Proposition 2½ override to address its disproportionate increase in the town’s district assessment.
Ben Buttrick of the Essex Finance Committee, a group that in past years has outwardly withheld support of the district’s budget, said Tuesday that Urbas was a steady, productive partner to the Town of Essex and worthy of high praise, and he thanked Urbas for being a great partner.
Then, Pamela Beaudoin, MERSD superintendent who arrived in her job just one year after Urbas, told Urbas that his impact on the district has been immeasurable and will be felt for years, saying, “You’ve put us in a very good position to move forward.”
“We’ve had a lot of challenges but a lot of fun, too,” she said.
Beaudoin said she has been interviewing replacements, “trying to find someone to fill these very big shoes.” She said her office has identified a final candidate for Urbas’ replacement and will be making an offer soon in time for the new director of finance to support the FY25 budget finalization process, which will go through March, 2024.
Urbas will be back, if only for a day. As a courtesy, he will be on hand to support next week’s public hearing on the district’s FY25 tentative budget (6:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 13).
As for his next position, Urbas will return to the consulting world that was his professional home before 2009. He is headed to CGI, a financial software company, where he will work in the company’s public sector unit. Previously to MERSD, Urbas had been on a team at Educate, Inc. that successfully developed a business to tutor thousands of low-income students at districts nationwide. He was also a senior consultant at The District Management Council, supporting nearly 70 school district superintendents and staff nationwide.
Urbas delivered this week's tentative FY25 MERSD budget early as part of a smooth departure. Typically the first round of a tentative budget goes before the School Committee well into December. But Urbas and Beaudoin presented the high-level draft on Tuesday. The $30.258 tentative budget is based on level services and represents an increase over last year of 3.42% or $1.002 million. It will be reviewed and refined over the next four months as part of the bud
Avi Urbas Says Good Bye to MERSD After 15 Years