BAR HARBOR — It’s at this time of year, especially, when school budgets are being finalized and vetted, that Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) principals and board members hope Nancy Thurlow takes really good care of herself.
She has been the school system’s business manager for the past 38 years. She and her small staff are responsible for paying the bills, balancing the books and managing the budgets for nine schools plus the high school trustees and the school district’s central office.
“She is the foundation of our district,” said Barb Neilly, principal of Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor. “Without Nancy, things don’t work, because she’s the money person and she keeps us all honest and on the right track so we don’t get ourselves in a jam.
“She knows her stuff, and she’s able to work with the bookkeepers at the individual schools so that they know their stuff,” she said. “She’s also so unassuming, and she’s the only person I’ve ever seen who never gets rattled.”
Mike Zboray, who was assistant principal at Conners Emerson for a number of years and is now in his fourth year as principal at Trenton Elementary, called Thurlow “an amazing person.”
“You want to share numbers with your school board and your town’s selectmen that are as real as possible so that you’re not stuck in a hard place,” he said. “To have somebody with Nancy’s experience and knowledge makes you feel confident.
“If you have a question, she has the ability to find the answer in an instant.”
To Jandrea True, principal at Tremont Consolidated School, Thurlow is an “absolutely a lifesaver.”
“I really look to her for support, and she’s always able to point me in the right direction.
“In the middle of budget season, it would be fair for her to be stressed, but she keeps herself so well composed. She’s always willing to sit and think through a problem with you, and she does it in such a kind and professional manner,” True said.
“Nancy makes it look easy when we all know that it’s not. And she goes out of her way to make things easier for other people.”
Ingrid Kachmar, a member of the Southwest Harbor School Board and current chairman of the MDI High School Board, called Thurlow a “gem.”
“Her institutional knowledge of what has happened in the district is fathomless. She can lend so much historical perspective.
“Nancy understands every budget for every school so thoroughly that anytime we have a question about any line item, she can speak to it,” Kachmar said.
“We’re very lucky to have somebody who is committed to our district the way she is.”
Thurlow meets with the principals of each of the school system’s nine schools and helps them prepare their budgets.
Superintendent Marc Gousse said that when the schools present their budgets to the elected officials in the MDIRSS towns and then go to town meetings for budget approval, he knows the numbers will be sound and people will believe them.
“If Nancy says something, it’s gospel,” he said. “You can’t discount the trust she’s earned. Everybody reveres her. She’s an icon.”
Gousse said the school system and its finances are very complex.
“But it all runs smoothly because of the work that Nancy does.”
Howard Colter, Gousse’s immediate predecessor as superintendent, said, “Nancy’s budget figures and advice are as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. She is respected by everybody because they trust her and know she is fair. To be so valued by so many people over more than three decades is remarkable.”
Colter was superintendent from 1992 to 2004 and again from 2012 to 2016. In between, Rob Liebow was the school system’s top administrator.
“Nancy is an absolute wizard in that she knows every number,” Liebow said. “And even more important than numbers, she knows the people, and she’s trusted. People know that she’s totally aboveboard, never hiding anything, and can be totally trusted to have accurate, complete and fair numbers and be able to explain those numbers. I had absolute faith that whatever she gave me was correct.
“She is an amazing, amazing person,” Liebow said. “I’m just so proud to have worked with her.”