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SKSD imports finance director from Colorado

It was time to venture outside of the familiar.

That was how Sandy Rotella described her decision to leave her native Colorado and relocate to Port Orchard.

Rotella, 45, was hired July 1 as South Kitsap School District’s chief financial operations officer. She replaces Terri Patton, who retired.

Superintendent Dave LaRose said Rotella was interviewed by a panel that includes both SKSD employees and community members, and that her experience stood out.

“She’s coming in with an extensive background of working in kindergarten through 12th-grade public education,” LaRose said. “She recognizes the uniqueness of that fiscal model.”

Similar to LaRose, who took an Internet quiz several years ago that helped guide him from Arizona to Washington, Rotella said she considered multiple areas before moving here. But she said the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains — after a lifetime of viewing the Rockies — made it “a natural transition” for her family.

She said she also developed a rapport with the administrative staff during her interview.

“It really became an easy decision for me to choose my next place of employment,” Rotella said.

She joins SKSD after serving as the assistant superintendent for finance and operations in the Westminster School District outside of Denver.

Similar to SKSD, Rotella said she dealt with significant budget reductions in recent years. SKSD faced a $6.5 million deficit for the upcoming school year after cutting $18.3 million in the previous five years. Rotella said the Westminster School District has reduced a $100 million budget to about $70 million during that span.

She said no one should expect the budget challenges to end soon.

“It probably isn’t a one-year problem,” Rotella said. “It’s probably going to take a couple of years for it to rebound and stabilize. The goal was always, ‘How do you build yourself that bridge to get to the other side and hopefully not fall off?’ Those same challenges are going to come here.”

She will attempt to remedy those issues with a different background than her predecessor. Patton, who worked in SKSD since 2000, was an English major in college before shifting her focus toward behavioral sciences, which also was the emphasis of her graduate work.

Rotella, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting in 1988, has focused on finance throughout her career. A certified public accountant in Colorado, she spent her six years after graduation as an independent contractor in the private sector before joining the Thompson School District in Loveland, in 1994. She moved on to Westminster in 2005.

Rotella said her interest in accounting came from her mother, who also worked in that profession.

She also is a certified school finance operations officer by the Association of School Business Officials International.

“I bring experience to the table — and maybe even a fresh look, too,” Rotella said.

LaRose agreed.

“We’re looking for a different perspective and a different lens ... to help us identify how we can become more efficient and maximize every dollar that we can to benefit kids,” he said.

She will not immediately inherit all of Patton’s job responsibilities, though. That is because LaRose and other administrators will assume some of those tasks, such as food services and Internet technology, and the chief financial operations officer position was posted at a reduced pay rate.

Rotella said she would be interested in accepting those responsibilities in the future if it becomes a possibility.

“Both of those have been my leadership role in the past,” she said.For now, she is becoming familiar with her new responsibilities and the different laws and regulations in Washington state.

It is a challenge she embraces.

“I could’ve stayed within Colorado, but I met my professional goals there,” Rotella said. “I’m just happy to be part of a cohesive, strong, family oriented team.”

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