By Bob Skolnik
After nearly four months, Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 finally has a business manager again.
On Oct. 22, the District 103 school board voted 6-0 to hire Martin McConahay as interim business manager. McConahay, an experienced, retired business manager, will work part time until July 1, 2020 as the school district looks to hire someone full time for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
McConahay, 69, will be paid $100 an hour and work no more than 600 hours, as his contract limits his pay from District 103 to no more than $60,000.
Working as an interim business manager is nothing new to McConahay. He's done it 11 times since retiring as the treasurer for Wilmette Public School District 39 in 2007. Before working at Wilmette, he served as an assistant superintendent for finance in Libertyville and North Chicago. Most recently McConahay worked as an interim business manager in Naperville Community Unit District 203.
"I tried to retire and 11 times I've done these interims after retirement because I enjoy working in the school setting, and a lot of times schools can use financial assistance, especially on a temporary basis," McConahay said. "It's not easy to find permanent business managers midyear and sometimes this helps bridge the gap for them."
McConahay said that he wants to look at the district's tax levy and budget process while at District 103 and create a process that will more fully involve department heads and principals.
He said that he is not fazed by being greeted with a budget for 2019-20, also approved on Oct. 25, which projects an operating deficit of about $1.5 million.
"It's certainly not the only nor the largest deficit I've looked at at school districts, so I can take that in stride," McConahay said. "In fact, that's a good challenge for me."
McConahay has already made a good impression in his first week on the job.
"He's a godsend," said District 103 Superintendent Kristopher Rivera. "He's exactly what we need right now: the right type of experience. He was able to sit down and just dive into it. It's excellent to have him aboard. He's just super professional, great personality, and just working very hard and very practically and is able to explain at a level that we can all comprehend so we can make some decisions."
Riverside Elementary School District 96 Director of Finance and Operations Jim Fitton worked under McConahay about a decade ago at Golf School District 67 in Morton Grove and then succeeded McConahay as the business manager there. Fitton said that he learned a lot from McConahay.
"He's a really nice person, very knowledgeable, always looking out for the best interest of the district," Fitton said.
The business manager job has been vacant in District 103 since the former business manager, Sherry Reynolds-Whitaker, left on July 1 to take a job with the East St. Louis school district.
During the summer, Rivera had originally wanted to hire Donald McKinney, a former superintendent in a couple of small south suburban districts, as business manager. However, school board President Jorge Torres would not schedule a vote to make the hire.
After Brian Towne was named human resources director at the beginning of September, the school board decided to hire an interim business manager for this year and to then begin a searching for a permanent replacement next year.
Torres has said that he did not have confidence in any hiring process before Towne was hired.
Forty candidates applied for the interim business manager position, but only seven had the required Illinois chief school business official certificate. Phone interviews were done with three candidates, but only McConahay was brought in for a personal interview with Rivera, Towne and Torres. Once they met him they were sure he was the right person for the job.
"I thought he had the strongest grasp and vison for this role," Towne said.
Rivera, who does not have a strong background in finance, said that he is very happy to have McConahay on the job. Rivera said that he now will be able to concentrate more on some of the tasks he was hired to do.
"It's going to help immensely," Rivera said. "There's just been so many things that I've been pulled away from."
And Rivera is glad to finally have a central office administrative team in place.
"It's fantastic," Rivera said. "It took a little while, but we're here."