Palo Alto Unified's Chief Business Officer Jim Novak, whose hiring was hailed by a school board member last year as "a real coup," is retiring at the end of the school year due to personal health issues, he said Thursday.
Novak was hired last July to replace the district's longtime budget official, Cathy Mak, with high hopes that he would bring reform and transparency to a department that has come under fire in recent years for budget mishaps, including a 2016 misestimate of property tax revenue that created a multimillion-dollar shortfall and a contractual error in 2017 that cost the district $4.4 million in unbudgeted raises.
Novak has worked in school finance since the late 1990s, most recently for the K-12 Desert Sands Unified School District in southern California.
His resignation is effective June 30. Novak said he has offered to provide support during the transition and "to help this district move forward in its fiscal practices."
"I'm sad to be leaving after a short amount of time but it's the right time for me personally," Novak said.
He'll be bringing a final budget to the board on June 11, with adoption slated for June 18. Novak has advised the board to take a "judicious" approach to spending on new programs with tight budget years ahead. At a February budget study session, he suggested a tightening of staffing ratios and taking a closer look at special-education spending, professional services and pension costs.
"The budget is in pretty good shape but we need to continue to look for ways to be more efficient and effective," he said Thursday. "We're blessed to have a lot of resources in Palo Alto but we also have a lot of programs that are outstanding for our kids and they cost a lot of money to implement."
Superintendent Don Austin said that "while I wish our time together here in Palo Alto would have been longer I appreciate his willingness to move up here and to invest fully in us during his time here."
A job posting for the chief business officer position was posted on the district website on Monday. Austin said he hopes to have a replacement hired by Novak's last day and if not, will seek interim support for the position.