A good school finance manager is hard to find.
It took three separate searches before Champaign school administrators and board members settled on a new business manager to replace the late Gene Logas.
The question now is whether the school board got not just a good person, but the right person for the job.
That's not to diminish the educational qualifications of Matt Foster, the principal of Bottenfield Elementary School who will take over as the district's chief financial officer on July 1. Foster brings an excellent educational resume to his new job. He has two master's degrees, one of which is in business administration. He's also working on his doctorate in educational administration.
But Foster's interest in school financial issues is more recent, and his lack of experience is a potential problem.
This is a crucial position that, historically, has been hard to fill. It's been particularly difficult in Champaign. Financial fiascoes were the rule of the day before Logas was hired. Superintendent Judy Wiegand describes the post as a "revolving door" prior to that arrival. Logas' sudden death last summer left a gaping hole in the district's administration.
Wiegand said handling district finances is a tough job because it requires a combination of skills — an understanding of school financial issues, familiarity with a large district as opposed to smaller ones and, finally, the ability to explain complicated financial issues in a way that ordinary people can understand.
Wiegand said that Foster had approached Mr. Logas about working with him to learn school financial issues and, more recently, worked with Urbana schools business manager Carol Baker to learn the ropes.
But it's a lot different being in charge, and it would be no surprise if Foster finds the going a bit rough, at least for a while.
Wiegand said, however, that both she and Foster are approaching the issue with their eyes wide open.
"He'll certainly have a lot of support," she said, including "direct mentoring" with a retired school finance administrator.
Nonetheless, Foster will be learning on the job. The good thing is that district officials are aware that it'll be a work in progress.