Brazeal, John 2016.jpg

John Brazeal is leaving his position as Fox C-6 School District’s chief financial officer.

Brazeal, 63, informed the district Nov. 25 of his plan to retire.

His final day at Fox is scheduled to be March 31, said JP Prezzavento, Fox communications and instructional technology coordinator.

“It has been my absolute honor to work with Mr. Brazeal for the past four years,” Superintendent Nisha Patel said. “He has been able to keep Fox C-6 finances and budget in a balanced order while maintaining a strong financial commitment to student learning.

“I applaud his selfless dedication to our district, and integrity and wish him nothing but the best for the next chapter in his life. Mr. Brazeal has been instrumental in the success of Fox C-6 in recent years and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.”

Brazeal started working at Fox on July 1, 2014, and is being paid $160,000 this school year, the district reported.

Brazeal declined to comment for this story.

During a closed session Dec. 17, Board of Education members voted 7-0 to release Brazeal from his contract, the district reported.

“(Members of the Board of Education) have relied a lot on John’s expertise to keep us focused in the right direction. He has done that,” Board of Education president Carole Yount said. “We have come a long way these past five years, and I’m sure a lot of that is due to his handling of the finances.”

Before his job at Fox, Brazeal was the chief financial officer for the Affton School District, where he had worked for more than eight years.

And before that, he worked for the city of Arnold for about 24 years. He was the Arnold city administrator for about six years, and before that the city’s finance director.

Brazeal grew up in Arnold and graduated from Fox High School, where his father, the late Charles Brazeal, taught social studies.

“The skill set, and vast experiences that he has in finance and education and overall approach to making student-centered decisions will be extremely difficult to replace,” Patel said. “Mr. Brazeal is the best CFO I have had the honor of working with.”

Jim Wipke, who served as Fox’s superintendent from July 2015 to July of this year, said Brazeal saved Fox from financial crisis.

“If the district would have continued on its pathway before John got there, it was set to crash,” said Wipke, who is now the superintendent for the Ladue School District. “People don’t always believe that when I say that, but the Fox School District, if it wasn’t for John Brazeal stepping in and making some tough decisions that not everybody liked, would have crashed. He stopped that from happening.”

Wipke said he enjoyed working with Brazeal for the four years the two were at Fox together.

“In terms of school finance and just a financial mind in general, he is second to none,” Wipke said. “He truly has a mind that worked really well in how to stretch a penny and stretch in the right way.”

Wipke said the first big purchase he remembers Fox making while he was superintendent was spending $300,000 to provide Chromebooks to students. He credits Brazeal for helping make that happen.

“I remember going home and telling my wife how excited I was because I really felt like that technology in our kids’ hands was going to make an incredible difference,” Wipke said. “That was a direct reflection of working with John and focusing on what was in the best interest of our students and how to make that happen. Any time we talked about our kids needing something, it was never a conversation of we can’t afford it. It was how do we make it happen? How do we put a plan in place to make it happen for our kids?”

The district started accepting applications on Dec. 4 to replace Brazeal as CFO, and it will stop taking applications Dec. 29.

The CFO will provide executive-level oversight of the district’s finance and business operations department, which will include working with the applicable directors to ensure the effective and efficient operation of accounting, financial planning, payroll, risk management, capital construction, real estate, custodial services, nutrition services, transportation and maintenance, according to the job posting.

Fox has listed the starting salary for the next CFO as $135,000.

Patel said she hopes to be able to recommend a candidate to the board by the end of January, and if that person is approved, she said she would want the next CFO to start as close as possible to Brazeal’s retirement date of March 31.

“It is going to be an interesting year,” Yount said. “We do have a new superintendent who is working very hard to bring things together for us. As everybody knows, financially we need to pass a bond increase of some kind. A new CFO, hopefully, will be attuned to pass a bond issue. It is going to be a difficult year for the district, but we have a board that is attuned with each other and we all know we need more money. Our superintendent is on board with that also.

“We are hoping whoever we hire for (the CFO) position will be an asset to the school district and continue to work with us. This will probably be a difficult job to fill.”

Wipke also said it will be difficult to find a replacement for Brazeal.

“John not only knows his job incredibly well, he knows the community incredibly well,” Wipke said. “There was insight he was able to give at times to how the community will respond to certain things. It will be hard to replace him. However, I’m incredibly confident Dr. Patel will find the right person and that the board will support her.”

Yount said a candidate’s willingness to be transparent and to demonstrate good communication skills will be among the top qualities she will look for when deciding who to hire to replace Brazeal.

“For myself, I need a little bit more in-depth explanation for what is happening, because I’m not a financial person,” Yount said. “School financing is a little bit different than ordinary business financing, so communication, transparency and working well with the staff and superintendent will be important qualities for the next CFO to have.”

Yount said even if a new CFO is not in place immediately after Brazeal retires, the district is in good hands with the current financial staff members.

“We do have people in that department who can handle whatever happens until someone is put in place,” Yount said. “It is not a situation that we are going to rush in and hire someone who is not qualified. We will be very selective, I would suspect.”