Caulk hires associate state education commissioner to oversee Fayette finances and budget

Superintendent Manny Caulk talked to students in the library of Bryan Station High School on Aug. 12.
Superintendent Manny Caulk talked to students in the library of Bryan Station High School on Aug. 12.

Fayette County schools superintendent Manny Caulk has hired a Kentucky Department of Education associate commissioner with 18 years of experience in state government to oversee the district financial services, budget and staffing, and human resources departments.

Hiren Desai, the state education department’s associate commissioner for the Office of Administration and Support since 2009, will be the new Fayette County Public Schools’ senior director of administrative services.

“Hiren is a rock star,” Caulk said. “The experiences and talent he brings to our district are a direct match for our targeted areas of improvement.”

District officials have spent the past several months trying to address problems in financial and budget systems that were pointed out in a 2014 state audit.

Caulk, who became superintendent in August, has said that he’s been reviewing the audit from state Auditor Adam Edelen and the district's correction plan to ensure that the problem doesn't occur again.

At the Kentucky Department of Education, Desai provided oversight, direction and support for the financial and physical resources of the state education department and school districts. In his new role, he will report directly to Caulk.

“These are areas in which we need real leadership in order to restore public confidence in the district,” Caulk said in a statement. “I’m thrilled Hiren has agreed to be a part of transforming our school district into a world class system of great schools.”

For the past six years, Desai has had oversight over the human resources functions for approximately 1,100 employees and an annual statewide K-12 budget of nearly $5 billion. He has helped lead the state department through a number of challenges, including navigating through 13 statewide budget cuts while rolling out massive changes to instruction and accountability, district officials said in a news release.

“We had to take a measured approach to budget reductions, while simultaneously reallocating funding for new initiatives,” Desai said. “We accomplished that in a fiscally responsible manner that had minimal impact to students, teachers, and principals, by doing more with less, and building strategic plans around key priorities, such as increasing graduation rates and improving college and career readiness.”

In addition to his work at the state education department, Desai has also held legal and management positions in the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, the Governor’s Office for Technology and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Born in Zimbabwe, Desai is a naturalized American of Asian descent who moved to Lexington in 1990, at the age of 16, to attend the University of Kentucky. He majored in finance and management and holds both a Bachelor’s of Business Administration and a juris doctor degree from UK. Desai is fluent in English and Gujarati and conversant in Hindi and Ndebele.

“If we are going to prepare students for a global society, we have to broaden the way we think about diversity,” Caulk said. “Hiren is a global citizen. His grandparents are from Asia, his wife is from England and he and his parents are from Africa. All of those experiences and perspectives will enrich our team and accelerate our work for students.”

Desai said he was attracted to Caulk’s vision of establishingFayette Countynot just as the top school district in Kentucky, but as a globally competitive school district that leads the nation.

“This goal is readily achievable with the significant talent and resources we have,” Desai said. “Fayette County is my home and I want our community to be the best it possibly can.”

“I’m excited to join FCPS and help the entire team and community partners in moving the district forward,” Desai said in a statement. “I want every student in Fayette County to be able to compete at a global level. We want to equip them to work and compete anywhere.”

Desai will assume his duties on Jan. 4, 2016. His annual salary, based on education and years of experience, will be roughly $140,000.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears