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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

Wanted: Business Manager

Thanks to public documents released to Shorewoodian and seasoned reporter Geoff Davidian, we know that the district business manager Patrick Miller is set to leave his post for a similar position in New Berlin this summer.

Typically when a district employee leaves (specifically certified staff, which means any administrators or teachers), their departure is made public at a board meeting following their official resignation. I don't know if or when that disclosure was planned, but either way, the cat is out of the bag now.

The revelation of Mr. Miller's departure presents both opportunities and dilemmas.

Most urgently, what does this mean for our district facilities work? Whether our school referendums pass or not on Tuesday, we will need to invest in our buildings to a greater degree than we have. The plan linked to the referendum up for a vote this week is the product in part of Mr. Miller, though it would be difficult to say to what degree. The plan also was built on a great deal of public input, consulting advice, teacher requests and other administrators' work, including our technology director and principals.

Maybe more significantly, Mr. Miller was half of the district's standard answer to who would be overseeing both the $65 million facilities work and $275,000 additional facilities budget. He and the superintendent were identified as the primary ones responsible for implementing the plan. No doubt we can find a new business manager who could very capably take on this responsibility, and if Mr. Miller is with us through midsummer, he can help ensure the transition is relatively smooth. However, it would be foolish to pretend that the new person won't need time to learn the ropes. Realistically, it will probably mean the planning phase will take longer than the current estimate of a year, though I hope I'm wrong. If the referendums don't pass and we have a new business manager, I would expect the delay to be even greater, since I would think the district to reevaluate its plans to some degree before planning for another referendum on a future ballot.

Whether the referendum pass or not, we have to address our facilities work. This is one reason it's crucial that the district hire an owner's representative to act as our advocate during planning and construction work (whatever it entails and whenever it happens), and my understanding is that the majority of the board already supports this.

It's also important that the district look to hire a new business manager who is experienced at working through a large multi-stage construction project, who is an experienced certified public accountant experienced at dealing with large-scale borrowing, and who is an exceptional team leader who can earn and keep the trust of the people who work for him so that we don't continue to have high turnover in the business office.

The position of business manager also includes responsibility for human resources and budgeting. Here the district also has a huge opportunity to either split off the HR work into a new position. I would advocate for doing this even if it meant giving up another administrative position. Maybe it's possible we find one person highly qualified with professional certifications in accounting, facilities work and HR, but that is probably not realistic. Even if we did, handling all these things well is probably more than a full time job. I think HR -- that is, recruiting, supporting and retaining the best teachers and staff -- should be a full-time job in itself, because growing and keeping experienced teachers is the best way to promote educational excellence.

I also hope our next business manager will be ready starting this year to overhaul our annual budgeting process to allow for open budget workshops, line item discussions with board members, and public engagement in a proactive way. Mr. Miller has always been quite responsive to questions, but the district's MO with few exceptions has been to wait for people to ask before sharing detailed information. I hope that changes. The board and superintendent can adopt a culture of proactive transparency and ask the new business manager to put that new culture into practice.

Tuesday's election is even more important than we knew.

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