Assistant Superintendent Dennis Goldberg’s vision will forever be visible in Brown County Schools.
“Nothing is more important to me than the success of Brown County Schools,” he said last fall.
Constructing STEM labs in every school building, establishing districtwide science fairs, balancing the district’s budget — Goldberg led them all.
He was also instrumental in starting Project Lead the Way, an engineering program, at the junior high and high schools.
“His influence is so deep. Many hearts are broken today in this district,” Superintendent Laura Hammack said Oct. 13
Goldberg died early that morning from complications of colon cancer. He had been fighting since June 2015.
“He will be missed desperately by every member of this school community because he has affected the lives of every member of this school community,” Hammack said.
“We will never be able to replace him. He’s one in a million.”
‘What do you need?’
When Hammack was selected as Brown County’s new superintendent, the first call she received was from Goldberg.
“In fact it was the evening of that board meeting and he was not able to be there, but he called me. We must have talked for an hour,” she said.
“His first question was, ‘What do you need?’ … Because he was so willing to get everything arranged for whatever I would need for the transition. He was like, ‘What questions do you have?’ I said, ‘Dennis, I don’t even know what question to start with,’ and he was giggling.”
Hammack took over in July after Superintendent David Shaffer retired.
She had drafted a list of pros and cons about becoming the next superintendent, and working with Goldberg was at the top of her pro list.
“He is known around the state as being one of the greatest school finance minds, and I thought what a blessing it would be for me to get to learn from the best. It’s a great disappointment to me to not have that opportunity,” she said.
Shaffer and Goldberg had crossed paths before Shaffer selected him as his nominee for assistant superintendent in 2009. When Goldberg joined the district, property taxes were not being received from the county and the district was using tax anticipation warrant loans to supplement loss of money in multiple funds.
In 2009, the state also took over the district’s general fund, which is used to pay teacher salaries.
“He was very valuable to us and helping us accomplish some things, like facility improvements and keeping a pretty good control of the budget even though we were dealing with decreasing revenues over most of the years we worked together,” Shaffer said.
Under Shaffer’s and Goldberg’s leadership, the district was reorganized, Brown County Intermediate School was created, teaching positions were reduced without dismissing teachers, instructional assistants were reduced, class sizes were allowed to grow somewhat, and training and supply budgets were reduced to get the general fund in the black.
“I don’t know that people in the community really realize how much this man did financially for the corporation to allow us to be what it is now,” said Carol Bowden, vice president of the Brown County School Board of Trustees.
Construction of new STEM labs, the transportation building and other projects were covered by bonds.
“He was very mindful of assuring that debt would always remain consistent so that our taxpayers wouldn’t have an undue burden on their shoulders,” Hammack said. “And he could use his understanding of that debt structure to enhance the facilities and learning environments for our students.”
Even when Goldberg was battling cancer, he was still invested in Brown County Schools.
In an October 2015 interview, he said he saw working as his best chance at surviving.
“Every Friday night I’d get a text: ‘What’s the football score?’” Hammack said.
“He wanted to know what our Eagles were up to. This sweet man is battling cancer desperately, and he’s like, ‘What’s the score, Laura? What’s the score?’ How amazing is that? His heart is this district.”
When he wasn’t sick, Goldberg would still work beyond a normal work day.
Shaffer’s favorite Goldberg memory is when Goldberg would call him on a night when there weren’t any school activities they had to attend to discuss school finances.
“I came to the impression that he really was a person who worked a lot of extra time to accomplish things that he felt were important,” Shaffer said.
The first meeting Bowden had with Goldberg was when he was introduced to the school board as Shaffer’s assistant superintendent candidate.
“Dennis was very professional and very serious in his demeanor, which kind of didn’t go well with the Brown County board that we had at the time — except for me, because I realized that he was presenting that Jersey persona that he grew up with and I understood,” Bowden said.
Both she and Goldberg are from New Jersey.
After that, Bowden said Goldberg became more relaxed and more “Brown Countian.”
“He interacted with all board members wonderfully, including John Mills, who was definitely financially oriented back in the day. I know that he and Dennis had wonderful, in-depth conversations related to finances,” she said.
Mills passed away in May 2015. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008.
Goldberg said that while battling cancer, he found himself drawing on Mills’ memory.
‘A good team’
When thinking back on her favorite Goldberg memory, a recent phone call comes to mind for Hammack.
He had called her after she finalized teacher negotiations to know what the deal was.
“I was kind of worried. I thought maybe he would have thought that I was giving away too much because he’s so conservative, and then he was like, ‘You know what? Good job kid.’ And I thought, ‘Wow. That meant the world to me,’” she said.
Shaffer described Goldberg as a person who was “little bit hard for people to first get to know.”
“He had kind of a brashness to him, and then as we got to know him and work together, I really felt like that he would warm a great deal to people. I think others in the district would probably say that,” Shaffer said.
“That wouldn’t be to say when he disagreed with some action, he absolutely expressed it, so that brashness didn’t go away. But I also think he kind of softened in his interaction with people. I hope that maybe we made a good team.”