Henry R. Boekhoff (MEd ’70, PhD ’78, ed. leadership) is widely recognized as a leader in the field of school finance and for his dedication to improve the quality of public education across Florida. Now, after four decades working behind the scenes at many Florida school districts, Boekhoff is in the spotlight.
He is the 2016 winner of the University of Florida College of Education’s Distinguished Alumni Award. UF President Kent Fuchs and education Dean Glenn Good presented the award to Boekhoff Saturday evening at UF’s commencement ceremony for undergraduate degrees at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Boekhoff, 73, said he was surprised to learn he would receive the award considering he has worked mostly out of public view during his long career.
“Most likely I am being given the award because of the sheer longevity of my career, and part of that is the opportunity I have had at a relatively early age to make a mark in the area of school finance,” he said.
The honor comes to a man who rose from humble beginnings.
Born in New York City in 1943, Boekhoff grew up in Nassau County, Florida, on a would-be chicken farm. His family was poor, especially after his father died suddenly of a heart attack when Henry was 7 years old.
His mother never remarried and the family didn’t have money for college. After graduating high school, Boekhoff found a job cleaning barnacles from vessels at a shipyard in Jacksonville. Soon enough he enlisted in the Army, where he earned college credits toward an accounting degree. After his discharge, he transferred to the University of Florida and in 1966 earned a bachelor’s in business.
Boekhoff’s career in school finance started by chance not long after he discovered he disliked working as an auditor for an accounting firm. He took a job as director of finance for the Nassau County School District in Fernandina Beach.
He quickly made a name for himself and went on to serve as deputy superintendent and chief financial officer for many of the state’s largest school districts, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Orange counties, where he displayed a passion for education and commitment to schools and communities.
More recently, Boekhoff has served as co-CFO of Florida Virtual School, the country’s first, statewide internet-based public high school and a provider of online K-12 education programs. Boekhoff still works full-time for the virtual school as a special assistant to the chief financial officer.
Along the way, Boekhoff continued his own education and returned to the University of Florida to receive a master’s in education in 1970 and a doctorate in Education Leadership in 1978.
He said his career has been guided by an understanding that financial considerations are at the heart of creating a well-functioning public school system.
“It’s crass to say in a way, but if you don’t have the funds you can’t keep hold of good employees and if you don’t have good employees the children are going to suffer,” he said.
Often referred to as the “dean” of school finance officers in Florida, Boekhoff helped shape the formulas that determine how funds are distributed to public schools and advocated for fair and equitable school funding. He coined the phrase “adequacy and equity” to highlight the inequitable distribution of education funding caused by the wide disparity in property values between rich and poor counties in Florida.
Boekhoff’s leadership helped Florida craft one of the most equitable education funding formulas in the nation.
“I have always been an idealist,” Boekhoff said, citing Thomas Jefferson as an inspiration. He paraphrased the founding father: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
Writer:Charles Boisseau, Office of News and Communications, UF College of Education; 352-273-4449 Media liasion/Director of News and Communications:Larry Lansford, 352-273-4137