Srini Vasan, assistant superintendent/chief business officer for Yosemite Unified School District for the past 11 years, retired this month and will be passing the torch Dec. 1 to Jimmy Monreal, a former chief business officer for Golden Valley Unified School District.
With drastic state cuts to public education since 2008, Vasan worked hard to keep the district afloat as revenues decreased during some of education's most trying times.
"I once worked as a gas and oil engineer in Kuwait in 120 degree weather and 85 percent-plus humidity, six days a week, 12 hours a day. That was a piece of cake compared to the education industry," Vasan said. "We've gone through some tough times."
While "chief business officer" for a school district might sound like a terrifying job to have right now, Vasan was proud to have it, working diligently to do what he could to make things better for students in the Mountain Area.
"If I say brilliant, I don't want to embarrass him, but he is," said Sally Condon, the district's operations supervisor who has worked for Yosemite Unified for 18 years. "He's one of those highly intelligent people, but he has the most wonderful sense of humor. He's very personable and yet very serious about his work. He's dedicated. I'm working evenings currently, and he'll be there after hours. He's there on weekends -- whenever the job needs to be done, he's there to do it ...
"I am really appreciative of what he's given to the district -- his understanding of the school finances and how to make the most of what the district has. For my department, allowing us to use the money we need to make the improvements and fixes that have to be done, while at the same time, managing the funds so that we still have a reserve. To me, I think that's pretty incredible in these financial times. I think he's done an awesome job of keeping our heads above water. I'm really going to miss him."
Vasan came into the school district more than a decade ago with a wide range of skills and experience: 15 years working in the consumer software business; seven years in internet-related technology; and senior management and international experience -- including sales, marketing and business development. Born in India, he moved to the United States in 1979 and holds a Master's degree in business administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering.
He moved back to Oakhurst in 1998 to retire and so his two children, Saranya and Rajesh, could attend Yosemite High School -- one of few schools in the state at that time offering International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. His retirement plans changed, however, when he heard of the opening for director of business services.
"I had my own business at the time and I saw the advertisement (for the Yosemite Unified position) and thought, 'Maybe it would be a good opportunity for a career change,'" Vasan said. "I told the district, 'I would run this like a business,' and that is what I've done."
Of the many things he's been involved in since his first day, one of the accomplishments he is most proud of is leading the unification of two school districts to become what is now Yosemite Unified -- bringing in more than $1.2 million in new revenue limits for students.
Along with managing and directing all of the district's business services, including the district's budget, he also served as lead negotiator.
He's also been instrumental in the formation of a budding international student program through the district. Yosemite Unified has its first student from China this year who holds a school-issued student visa and pays tuition.
Vasan said he is concerned for the future of education, especially regarding the reductions in California school days due to less state funding. Internationally, the U.S. is behind many countries in the number of school days -- 180 days compared to 236 in India, for example, he said.
"Nationwide, California is ranked as one of lowest in spending per student -- we're number 46 or 48 on the list of the 50 states, and you can see that reflected in our student's academic performance," he said. "In the 1970s, California was number one (academically). The best foundation is giving a good education to students. We spend $8,000 a year on a student and spend $50,000 on a prison inmate. That is kind of the irony of this ...
"What you reap is what you sow. You have to put in those extra sources (of funding) to make the education industry better."
Vasan said the last three years have been a daily challenge with constant cuts from the state.
"When you lack sources (of funding) you feel bad and know that the district is needing more very badly -- more teachers, more support staff -- and that is tough, that is very tough. But it is not our own doing," he said. "When you look at the state, all the schools are going through the same challenges. There are a lot of things you can do in the private industry that you can control that you can not control in education."
"I know he agonized over the budget issues and took his stewardship of the district's money very seriously," said recently-retired district administrator Earlene Ward, who served as director of special programs. "He will be missed in the district."
Ward said Vasan is kind and thoughtful and extremely dedicated -- always working diligently to help the district maximize its resources.
"Srini is an extremely professional individual and has a skill set that has been extremely valuable to the district," said Steve Raupp, who retired earlier this year as superintendent of Yosemite Unified. "He's guided the district very skillfully in terms of managing the district's budget and found creative ways to reduce expenditures -- his skills have just been invaluable ... I think he is largely responsible for the fiscal solvency of the district at this point ... He was someone I truly valued having on my staff."
Vasan's retirement will be filled with more time with his wife of 28 years, Gita; improving his golf swing; Contract Bridge playing; and maybe some more teaching at Oakhurst Community College -- where he's taught small business operations, and introduction to management, for many years.
Vasan's words of wisdom for those working in education today is, "Don't lose hope."
"This school is going to go to great places, I'm sure of it," Vasan said of Yosemite High School. "Even though it's going through some tough times, because this is a great school -- it's a great school district."