The Palo Alto school district could have its first new chief business officer in a decade in Jim Novak, the current assistant superintendent for business services in a large Southern California K-12 school district.
District staff are asking the school board to waive its two-meeting rule and approve a three-year contract with Novak, who has worked for the Desert Sands Unified School District in La Quinta since 2014, at a special meeting on Thursday, July 19.
If approved, Novak will replace longtime Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak, who plans to retire in October.
Novak did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Novak has worked in school finance since the late 1990s, according to a resume provided by the school district. He began his career in Chelsea, Michigan, as the executive director of business and operations for a small K-12 district from 1997 to 2001. He then worked as the assistant superintendent of business services in South San Francisco Unified from 2001 to 2004 and Palms Springs Unified for the next seven years.
In 2011, he became the Long Beach Unified School District's chief business and financial officer, managing a $700 million budget for a district with close to 84,000 students.
In Desert Sands, he has overseen a $340 million general fund budget for the 29,000-student district.
Novak has also worked as a controller and auditor, according to his resume. He holds bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in business administration and educational administration and leadership.
If appointed, Novak will be taking over a highly scrutinized department. Mak has come under fire in the last two years for her handling of two major budget errors — a misestimate of property tax revenue in 2016 that created a multimillion dollar shortfall with which the board is still grappling and a contractual error last year that cost the district $4.4 million in unbudgeted raises.
Don Austin, the district's new superintendent, called Novak one of the state's "elite CBOs."
"With the pending retirement of Cathy Mak, we are losing an enormous amount of institutional knowledge," he said. "It was important to find a candidate with a proven record of success at the highest level."
Under the proposed contract, Novak will receive an annual salary of $265,000, to be adjusted in his first year since he is set to start after the school year begins. The contract proposes a Sept. 1 start date, but the district will have to negotiate a release date with the Desert Sands district, Austin said.
The contract does not include "me too" or automatic compensation increases, additional stipends for advanced degrees, automobile allowance or moving expenses. It does provide Novak with the same health, dental, vision and other fringe benefits that other contracted management personnel receive.
Under the contract, Austin would evaluate Novak's performance at or around the midpoint of this school year "pursuant to a process (formal or informal) established by the Superintendent in consultation with the CBO."
The board will meet Thursday from 5:30-6 p.m. in closed session and in open session from 6-6:30 p.m. View the agenda here.