Jay Pearlman is a Money Man on a Mission
Jay Pearlman never imagined he would be living on St. George Island, let alone working as the director of financial services for Franklin County Schools. A native of Long Island, N.Y., he graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and then earned a law degree from New York University. Pearlman is an attorney, having practiced law for 21 years in both New York and Ohio. He also is a licensed CPA, a certified teacher and a former basketball coach. In addition, somewhere along the way, he bought a sports production company. But even all that is just a small part of the colorful personality that is Jay Pearlman.
Money Man on a Mission From Harvard grad to sports commentator, Jay Pearlman takes his business dollars and sense to the cash-strapped Franklin County school system By Lee Gordon Originally published in the Apr/May 2010 issue of 850 Business Magazine
Jay Pearlman never imagined he would be living on St. George Island, let alone working as the director of financial services for Franklin County Schools.
A native of Long Island, N.Y., he graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in 1978 and then earned a law degree from New York University. Pearlman is an attorney, having practiced law for 21 years in both New York and Ohio. He also is a licensed CPA, a certified teacher and a former basketball coach. In addition, somewhere along the way, he bought a sports production company. But even all that is just a small part of the colorful personality that is Jay Pearlman.
He credits the Harvard degree with helping him along the way.
“Having gone to Harvard does continue to help me be recognized and grab something professionally that I might not have otherwise,” he said. “The farther from Boston, the more clout (a Harvard degree) has. In Boston and Manhattan there are a thousand people like me, but not in Apalachicola or Eastpoint.”
At Franklin County Schools, Pearlman’s financial expertise will be called upon to tighten the purse strings. The school system has been hit hard by the down economy — more specifically by the real estate bust. Most of the county’s cash flow comes from property taxes, but since the real estate market has gone belly up, the tax collections used to fuel school spending have gone down — and now it will be up to the 52-year-old Pearlman’s business acumen to keep the district financially solvent.
“The outlook for the tax base is bleak, so the biggest challenge is to continue to stretch a dollar and create quality education on no more money next year than we spent this year,” he said.
But Pearlman has encountered challenges before. He has tried big-time cases, including two before the Ohio Supreme Court, and became a respected appellate litigator and insurance coverage lawyer along the way. He also has worked on corporate tax planning as a certified public accountant with Ernst & Whinney, the predecessor of modern-day accounting giant Ernst & Young, in New York.
Pearlman loved the law, but he also loved basketball. So when he wasn’t working to pass the bar, he was working to learn the pick and roll with the NYU basketball team. He spent so much time in the gym that the team asked him to announce its games on the radio.
A broadcast career quickly turned into a coaching career and, before he knew it, Pearlman was mentoring a group of New York law students as their junior-varsity basketball coach. Eventually he would move on to Brooklyn College and Bowling Green State University in Kentucky before calling it a career.
“When I wanted money in my pocket, I was a lawyer,” Pearlman said. “When I thought coaching was the sexiest thing and that every girl wanted to date college basketball coaches, I wanted to coach. I moved back and forth too often to sustain either career in a consistent manner.”
As well rounded and educated as he was, Pearlman still longed for more. So he called on Harvard’s basketball coach, Frank Sullivan, to see if there was an opportunity for him to work in the athletic department there. The two talked about Pearlman becoming the color commentator for the team’s basketball games on radio. And before long, not only was he announcing college basketball games, he owned the rights to them.
“I spent four years in Boston buying the rights and selling commercials for college basketball for ESPN radio in Boston,” he said. “The first two years, we owned the rights to Harvard, the next two years for Northeastern.”
That project ceased after the 2007-2008 season because Northeastern University ran out of money. But Pearlman quickly landed on his feet.
Fast-forward to the present — and to the reason Pearlman came to Franklin County in the first place. It all started during a vacation in February 2000. That vacation turned into a real estate opportunity, and before his trip concluded, Pearlman was a property owner.
“I was dating a Florida native, and she suggested we vacation on St. George Island in late February,” he said. “Well, early that week she stumbled on Mason Bean, Realtor and ‘unofficial island mayor.’ She made an appointment for him to show us property later in the week. To my huge shock, I bought an acre of land — the last property Mason showed us. Heck, I didn’t even own the apartment we were living in, in downtown Cleveland.”
Despite North Florida’s subsequent real estate bust, Pearlman wasn’t deterred by the phone call and a subsequent offer he received during the summer of 2009. It was an offer to move to Franklin County, and it gave him a chance to make a fresh start by teaching young people. The call came from a member of the school board, asking Pearlman if he would consider moving to Franklin County should a teaching position open up. Pearlman said he would, and a few months later, a position did become available.
Still, the school board wanted to know: Was a Harvard grad serious about teaching at Apalachicola High School? It turns out that Pearlman was serious. Pretty soon, he was packing his bags and moving to North Florida.
“I always thought I would teach the second half of my working life,” he said. “I’m certainly at the second half. They said, ‘We have a spot open if you complete your certification process.’ True to their word, I came down June 7 (2009). I taught second semester high school. I’m licensed in social studies, middle school and high school math. I took a couple of academic tests last May, so I have three teaching certifications. I taught American history, civics and math.”
Pearlman came to Franklin County to teach, nothing more. But when the call came to direct the school district’s finances, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. His Harvard education, his CPA license and his knowledge of the area made him a perfect fit to lead the school system into the future. And on Dec. 21, just days before Christmas, Pearlman took on one of the toughest challenges of his illustrious career.
“Looking back on my life,” he reflected, “this is surely the most important job I’ve ever held.”
What kind of advice could you give to any up-and-coming lawyers, CPAs, teachers, business owners? My advice would be to young people: Do what you love, not what pays the most today. Find something you love in college, something you like better than sex, and do that. Do what turns you on and pleases you and you will do it great, and it will become a lucrative career.
If you could have any job in the world, what would it be? I would be the local radio or TV analyst for Coach (Hamilton) at Florida State. (Editor’s Note: Leonard Hamilton is the university’s men’s basketball coach.) I don’t know that I can do that job living 90 miles away with a very full-time day job at Franklin County.
What kind of challenges will you have working with a union in Franklin County? I am just getting to know the union folks here in this district, but in general, over the past 20 to 30 years in this country, by their focus on seniority, tenure, working conditions, benefits and “teacher rights,” one can argue that unions have taken positions in many cases hindering the maximization of value for students. (Obviously, the union’s constituency is the teachers, not the students.) It will be my goal in that interaction to support the “good stuff” the union proposes, the good teachers, and the improvement of teacher compensation, particularly the compensation of quality young teachers recruited in our district.
What are some changes you anticipate? I need to create a consensus that quality of education is obtained by good instruction and good example more than it is by the most modern equipment and techie toys — also that good equipment, well cared for, can be made to last. Here’s a small example: I’ve heard from some athletic coaches the view that sports uniforms should have a useful life of around three years. Heck, when I was a kid in school in a less affluent district on Long Island, I wore baseball uniforms 10 or more years (say, five years of use on our varsity, then six or seven on our JV). I hope to create a consensus for such extended use and the related conservation of district resources.
When do you find time to have fun? And what do you do in your free time? I like going to the beach with the dog. I read a lot, I read a ton; I’d rather read than watch TV. Read a couple of books, lot of CIA, crime, Tom Clancy type of books, Harry Bosch by Collins.