Mike always had his eye on the prize—it just took some time to get there! But he never stopped moving forward, keeping his future in focus. He earned his BS degree, an M.Ed. and planned to be a teacher. But, throwing caution to the wind he took a leap of faith, uprooted and relocated his family, and accepted a position as a Chief Business Official (CBO). Not exactly where he thought he’d end up, but it’s been a perfect fit and has paid off—big time! Mike shares his journey and offers great insights and advice to those trying to find their way.
Q. Tell us about your path leading up to today. What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your journey?
A. Distance from school was always an issue when my children were young, so I came back to education later in life, once they were grown. By then, travel was easier, even though I worked long hours at my job at a school district in Napa Valley. I originally began my career in public education as an aide in lower-grade classrooms, slowly working my way up the ranks from aide to librarian to technology coordinator and to Business and Operations Manager.
But that was as far as I could go, and without a formal education, I was stuck in a holding pattern. So, I went to school, and within five years, I had completed my Bachelor of Science in Business with an emphasis on the public sector, as well as my Master of Science in Education with an emphasis in school business leadership.
Later, I was accepted into the Chief Business Official (CBO) Program run by the state's Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT). During that time, I applied for and was hired as the CBO for the Upper Lake Unified School District--a position I still hold today.
My wife and I had to uproot our lives and move two hours away, without a rental or home to purchase, and found ourselves staying with someone from the district who had extra room while we found a place. Housing was tight, and it took a while to secure a place to live.
Being new to the job and in a small district, I was responsible for much of the hands-on accounting, including budgeting, journaling, closing the books, etc. I learned about UCR University Extension’s Accounting for Governmental and Nonprofit Organizations certificate program, oddly enough through the CEO of the FCMAT organization.
Q. What were some of the unexpected benefits?
A. In my new position, finding time to take the courses was a challenge, but UCR made the courses challenging and targeted to the online learner, which was appreciated. The UCR courses helped me have a better understanding of the processes and allowed me to get a firm grasp on journaling expenditures; a difficult task to accomplish without that understanding.
The benefits have paid off in ways I wouldn't have imagined. I am more confident in my work product both in my head and in front of the public, and the school board. It's also been easier to actually accomplish the work I have to complete using the knowledge gained.
Q. Looking back at where you were when you started this journey, where did you think or hope it would lead you?
A. I really had no idea. If you told me when I was a part-time aide that I would end up as a CBO, I would have laughed at you. At one time, I thought about being a teacher, but the path I was on led me somewhere else: School Business. I was asked a similar question by my superintendent a few weeks ago, and he told me not to limit myself in my mind, thinking that I simply will not, or cannot achieve the next steps in my career. Sage advice.
Q. What difference did your experience at UCR University Extension make to your life path and career goals?
A. My time with UCR made me more confident in my abilities to do my job. It came at a very opportune time, as I was only a few years into the position. I had many of the technical skills to do the job well, but the understanding of what I was doing and the why of what I was doing eluded me in many cases. UCR cleared up much of the ambiguity I had, solidifying and cementing the information for me.
Q. What are you doing now?
A. Currently I work as the Chief Business Official (CBO) for the Upper Lake Unified School District. I build the annual budget, compile interim reports, control spending, and manage the Maintenance, Operations, and Transportation department, as well as the Food Services and Technology departments. I apply for, and manage many of the grants we have, supervise our construction projects, and track facility bond spending.
Q. What have been some of the most exciting or rewarding moments of your career so far?
A. I think being selected for the FCMAT CBO program was definitely a highlight for me. It's a very competitive program with hundreds of applicants for approximately 25 slots. The fact that I was chosen because they saw something in me that I hadn't seen in myself meant a lot.
Getting the job at Upper Lake USD was another high point in my life. Going into a district as a brand-new CBO and making a difference immediately felt really good. They took a chance on a very green CBO, and I hope they believe it paid off in the same way I do.
Q. What professional and personal achievements are you most proud of, and why?
A. Personally, I am most proud of the schooling I undertook. At one point I was working 60+ hours a week, finishing my Bachelor’s and starting my Master’s all at the same time. It was a huge accomplishment, and as much as I didn't want to, my wife made me walk the stage both times. She was right. It was something we both earned, and we deserved to celebrate.
Professionally, it would be my work as a CBO. Walking into Upper Lake USD and getting a downhill budget back on track, correcting major deficiencies, elevating my staff and departments, and ensuring the district had the best pay possible, great working conditions, and that we stayed fiscally solvent. Through strong budget controls, we've managed to give the staff (classified and certificated alike) raises exceeding 20% in four years. This is following six years with no increases beyond step-and-column.
Q. What has been the greatest challenge you have faced during your career?
A. The greatest challenge I have faced is learning how to be a leader rather than a manager. Telling people what to do is easy. Giving them a valid reason to walk with you as you make a difference in the lives of students, and gaining buy-in on your philosophies, can be tough. Sometimes you want to use your positional power to move people along, and sometimes you need to. But for the majority of times, progress should be a group achievement. As Simon Sinek would say, you need to get people to find their “Why.”
Q. What career (or other) advice would you give to students or graduates looking to move into your industry?
A. Both in your personal life and your professional life, never stop examining yourself and what you're doing. And be honest when you are looking. Lying to yourself will not allow you to move past your faults and grow. I have told my kids since they were very young that, when you believe you are right but everyone around you believes you are wrong, you owe it to yourself to explore the issue, and make the determination of whether you are right or wrong in your position. You may very well be right, but there’s always a chance that you might be wrong, too. Personally, I would rather admit to being wrong and change my position than continue being wrong and knowing I was wrong.
Q. Who has been memorable to your experience?
A. My current superintendent has been my best coach and greatest cheerleader. He believed in my abilities and talents from the very beginning, and has done for me what I try to do for others.
Q. What are your hopes and aims for your future?
A. I look forward to retirement someday, but as my superintendent said to me, when I was an aide, it never occurred to me that I would one day be a CBO. I can’t imagine moving out of working as a CBO; however, I'm not going to discount additional upward movement and limit myself based on modesty, trepidation, or self-doubt. I've learned that I can do much more than I ever thought I could, so why not take the next step when it presents itself?
Q. In your life today, what makes you really happy?
A. Honestly, what makes me happy today is a job well done and spending time with my wife. Now that the kids are grown, it's an interesting and different dynamic being together. We never really had a chance to be alone when we dated as we had kids almost right away.
I also get an incredible amount of pleasure watching my staff grow into their full potential. I believe in preparing them for the next job in their life, whether it's at Upper Lake or beyond. I want to see them improve professionally and personally.
Q. Any parting thoughts?
A. It's long been said that Public Service is its own reward. This is very true, and I have lived it now for more than 20 years. I have found great personal benefit in my work, and have seen first-hand how the business side of education can work hand-in-hand with the Ed Services side of the house, creating a harmony that leads to a positive learning environment.
Stories like Mike’s illustrate the power of Lifelong Learning, and how it can help you change your future. He shows us what drive, focus, and commitment to excellence can do—for you and for those lucky enough to be around you. Congratulations, Mike, and we can’t wait to see where life takes you.
Michael Kauble, CBO
Upper Lake Unified School District, Upper Lake, CA
B.S., Business with an emphasis on Governmental and Nonprofit Business, University of Phoenix
M.Ed. with an emphasis in Educational Leadership, Wilkes University
Graduate, UCR University Extension
Professional Certificate in Accounting for Governmental and Nonprofit Organizations