Denise Drennan of North Little Rock School District (CFO of the Year Finalist, Public Sector)

It was a teacher who inspired Denise Drennan, and now Drennan has found herself doing her part for education in central Arkansas.

Drennan, CFO of the North Little Rock School District, has helped the district out of a fiscal pinch and onto the path to growth and improvement. Her efforts made her a finalist for Arkansas Business CFO of the year in the public sector category.

“It’s a huge opportunity and honor to even be nominated for that kind of an award,” Drennan, 46, said. “It kind of pulled everything together, the whole of my accounting and finance experience and background.”

Born in Stillwater, Okla., Drennan and her family moved to the Little Rock area when she was 4. At Joe T. Robinson High School she was inspired by her accounting teacher, Linda Ball.

“She made us see the possibility and the potential and what the world could be like,” said Drennan, who has a double major in accounting and finance.

While working in the financial reporting division at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, she became a certified public accountant before transferring to Legislative Audit in 1993.

Drennan joined the district in July 2011. Regional work in her previous job had given her experience with various school districts, and joining the school district seemed a natural progression for Drennan.

The North Little Rock School District was on the Arkansas Department of Education’s list of schools in fiscal distress, and Drennan’s primary goal was to get the district removed from the list.

“I was hired and then we brought in a consultant to help and get that going in the right direction,” Drennan said. “We were told an audit got us in and an audit will get us out.”

Drennan describes a seven-days-a-week process in which the district focused on its paperwork, tracked and tallied spending and made sure it got approval from the state office for expenditures of more than $2,500.

“It wasn’t that we had financial problems or that we cut spending or anything like that,” Drennan said. “We really just had to make sure our records were like they should be anyway.”

The school was removed from the fiscal distress list in December.

“It was not just me by any means,” Drennan said. “That was a collaboration between a lot of different people at the district level.”

The district is now moving forward with a more than $220 million capital improvement plan that will take five to seven years and includes five new elementary schools and a high school, increasing overall space while consolidating the number of campuses from 19 to 13.