School business leaders are in short supply

VOORHEESVILLE — Voorheesville has been searching for a new assistant superintendent for business since Gregory Diefenbach left in late February. In the meantime, Sarita Winchell filled in.

Winchell, who had worked for the district 37 years before retiring in 2011, carried the district through a successful budget season.

Now, Winchell has been appointed the district’s school business consultant, to be paid on an hourly basis, while interim assistant superintendent for business, Charles “Chuck” Snyder, was appointed by the school board Monday.

Snyder, who is not related to Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder, has extensive experience in interim positions, and will be paid per diem, $500 per day, the superintendent said; he did his business administration internship at Voorheesville many years ago, and was retired when the district asked him to come on.

Winchell knew Snyder from the New York State Association of School Business Officials, and contacted him for the position.

Thayer Snyder describes Snyder as a “good match” for the district.

The superintendent also said, of the responsibilities of Winchell’s new position, “We’ll see her when we need her.”

When the job posting for the assistant superintendent for business job closed in April, Voorheesville had only four people it wanted to interview.

“Our pool was not terribly deep,” Thayer Snyder said.

One of the four pulled out for personal reasons, while another decided she didn’t want to make the long commute to the district.

Rural Berne-Knox-Westerlo, after a year of using an interim business official, next year will share a business administrator with Duanesburg and farm out many of the offices’ duties to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Mark Kellett, who had filled in at BKW last year, said this is a good idea for small schools; BKW has fewer than 1,000 students and a budget of $22 million.

According to Charles Dedrick, district superintendent for Capital Region BOCES, while there is a surplus of school administrators, there is a glaring lack of school business administrators.

He attributes this to a number of factors, beginning with the path towards becoming a school business administrator not always being an obvious choice.

Locally, The College of Saint Rose offers a school district leader program, and the State University of New York’s School of Education in Albany has a department of educational administration and policy studies.

“Business administration is a different animal,” compared to straightforward administration, he said.

The certification for business administrators is rigorous, requiring a master’s degree, 30 credit hours of work beyond the master’s degree, and an internship as a school business official.

“It’s a commitment to that job,” Dedrick said.

“A whole bunch of experienced people are retiring,” leaving a void in many districts, he continued. Because there is typically only one administrative business position per district, there weren’t many of those positions available originally, and not many people pursued them.

“Finding a business administrator right now is the hardest job, hands down,” Dedrick continued, adding that finding an interim position can be just as difficult.

As with any position, there are different levels of ability, and, referring to the $90,000-to-$110,000 post Voorheesville was offering, Dedrick said, “Top-notch [school business administrators] are making more than that already.”

Dedrick postulated that people in the accounting field could possibly make the crossover to school business administration — after, of course, earning the master’s degree that is required for the school position but not for accounting — but perhaps that hasn’t occurred to them as a desirable option.

“Most business administrators could probably fill in for other positions,” within a district, Dedrick said, “But, other administrators couldn’t fill in business administrator positions.”

“People talk to me about becoming administrators, and I suggest being a business administrator,” Dedrick said, “and they roll their eyes.”

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