Brown Deer School Board close to naming business manager

Previous manager had been absent with pay

April 21, 2010

Brown Deer — A new business manager for the school district could be named tonight, according to officials. The prospect comes after the formal resignation of the administrator currently holding the title, Edward Towle. He has been absent from the position since February 2009.

Throughout the past 14 months, district officials have declined to comment on the reason for Towle's absence. He remains under contract with the district through June 30, and the School Board last week accepted his resignation, which will take effect on that date.

Towle has continued to receive his full salary and benefits while on leave. Last year, that amounted to $146,060.

With Towle's resignation official, administrators and School Board members have begun searching for his replacement. Emily Koczela, the consultant overseeing Towle's duties since early last year at an hourly rate of $48, was interviewed by the board for the position in a special open session meeting Monday.

Later in the evening, the board went into a closed session meeting to discuss how it wants to proceed in filling the position. While no decision was made Monday night, District Administrator Deb Kerr said an announcement on who will fill the position could be around the bend.

"What I can say is we hope to have a board meeting on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to approve a new business manager contract," Kerr wrote in an e-mail to a reporter Tuesday afternoon.

Interviewing Koczela in open session for the position was a bit unorthodox, Board President Dennis Griffin said, but warranted given the circumstances.

"This has been an unusual situation for us," Griffin said. "It's been a semi-public situation."

Kerr and board members asked Koczela an assortment of questions typical of a job interview. Koczela, a former Shorewood School Board member, shared her elected and professional experiences, which include a legal background. She eventually went on to earn a degree that qualifies her to handle a school district's financial affairs.

"All of those years on the School Board, I literally spent thousands of hours on school finance issues," Koczela said.

While Koczela has had an opportunity to demonstrate her professional skills in her consulting role with the district, becoming the full-fledged business manager would carry more responsibility.

"I've done the best I could," Koczela said of the past 14 months. "If I should assume this role, I would want to have the opportunity to be part of the discussion of social justice for the poor. Right off the bat, I want you to know I think that is something that is important."

Koczela said her mission-minded approach to school finance would entail spending the district's dollars the most prudent way possible while trying to drive student achievement in an upward direction, whenever possible.

"Our goal is to get the very best student achievement at the most responsible price for taxpayers," she said. "I'm in that tunnel digging out facts just like everybody else."

Throughout her consulting role, Koczela said she has been fortunate in having the opportunity to collaborate with district employees, including the superintendent, building principals, facilities manager and back-office accounting staff at the district office.

"In five years, I hope to be here," Koczela said when asked one of the standard questions in a job interview. "I'm not here to build up my resume and move on. I want to dig in and look at how we can make changes and be innovative."

Kerr said the business manager position is an integral part of the day-to-day functions within the district. A sampling of the job duties include overseeing the districtwide budget, managing payroll, preparing the property tax levy and presenting at the district's annual meeting.

"I expect the business manager to be a leader in this district," Kerr said at the special meeting. "It takes all of us to work together."

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