July 22, 2024

ST. ALBANS — Process payroll for 600 employees. Pay invoices for supplies and utilities. Organize transportation. Manage food service. Negotiate staff contracts.

As business office manager for the Maple Run Unified School District, Martha Gagner wears many hats to make sure kids have what they need to learn and succeed.

“If it’s good for kids, Martha will figure out how to make it happen,” Superintendent Bill Kimball said.

After 31 years with the district, Gagner is retiring this month. A lover of numbers, she’ll miss her calculator and her spreadsheets, but she’s ready to move on and spend more time with her grandkids.

Gagner has lived in St. Albans all her life and was first hired by the schools in August 1993 as a part-time accounts payable clerk. As the district merged and changed over the years, she took on more and more responsibility before finally moving into the management role she’s now held for 20 years.

“If it wasn’t for his (the former business manager’s) guidance, and mentorship from other leaders, it would have been a daunting task to take on,” she said.

When Gagner graduated from high school years earlier, she thought she’d be a cosmetologist. But when she took a chance on an accounting position at the St. Albans Co-op, she quickly became hooked on numbers.

“I really liked the work,” she said. “I learned everything I know about accounting on the job.”

In the last three decades, Gagner has been at the center of the school system’s biggest changes. She helped with BFA’s transition to a public school and the reorganization from a supervisory union to the Maple Run Unified School District.

“We were one of the first districts to merge, so we were really at the front end of it, figuring it out as we went along,” she said.

A network of school business managers across the state has also offered her support. As a member of the Vermont Association of Business Officials she’s been able to give and take advice.

Today, Gagner manages the district’s $69 million budget, and knows firsthand the challenges of putting together a proposal voters will approve. She’s enjoyed the puzzle though, figuring out where Maple Run can save a little money so other needed programs can thrive.

“I enjoy working with numbers, analyzing them and solving problems,” she said.

Most recently, school staff requested a wheelchair accessible van that wasn’t in the approved fiscal year budget. Instead of saying “no,” Gagner said “give me a minute,” Kimball said. She went to the drawing board and found the money in an unfilled special paraeducator position.

“That’s her daily work and one of her biggest strengths,” Kimball said.

In her last few weeks on the job, Gagner will continue to guide Bianne King, who will be taking over as business office manager. King has worked in Gagner’s department for the last 12 years.

“I don’t have any concerns in her ability to take over when I leave,” Gagner said. “I’m leaving it in good hands.”


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