CASBO Career Chronicles: Eric Dill Edition
Chief Business Official
Santa Clara Unified School District
Growing up, Eric Dill imagined a creative career of sketching and building as an architect. As he grew older, his interests changed from building with Legos to math and problem solving. But how does one learn about career opportunities in school business anyway?
In an interview with Eric Dill, he shares just how important fostering connections and seeking mentorships can be to developing a lasting career.
Question: What did you study in school?
Answer: I took advanced accounting in high school and did really well. Our high school got a grant to get five computers, and I got to use advanced accounting software, which was pretty cool at the time. I thought, “This is probably what I’ll end up doing.” I went to San Diego State with the intent of becoming an accounting major. Halfway through, I decided I wanted to be an English teacher. I realized my skills were way more verbal and accounting is actually my second language. I completed my degree in English, but I didn’t enjoy my student teaching experience. Ultimately I realized I was more business-oriented.
Q: How did you end up in school business?
A: I didn’t expect to be in school business. In fact, I didn’t really know it existed. My first real job was in safety and risk management (another career I didn’t know existed) at Six Flags Magic Mountain in L.A. I worked in risk management insurance consulting, and spent five years as a risk manager for a Halloween costume company, but eventually realized I had reached the ceiling. I needed a career where I could grow. I saw a tiny ad in the San Diego Union Tribune for a loss control analyst role at the San Dieguito Union High School District, and I went to work for a chief business official who recognized I could offer more to the organization. He assigned me projects that often had nothing to do with my job, such as figuring out efficient master schedules for class size reduction or analyzing field trip costs. By showing I could do more than my job description required, my career expanded and I assumed more responsibilities.
Q: How did you end up in your current role?
A: This same CBO asked me if I’d ever thought about a career as a CBO. I said yes, but that I didn’t have the school finance background. He told me that neither had he when he started the job. That set me on a new and exciting career path. Soon, I was enrolled in the FCMAT [Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team] and CASBO-sponsored CBO Mentor Program receiving quality training from the most respected leaders in school business. Ultimately, that conversation, coupled with CASBO’s professional development, is what led me to becoming the district’s CBO four years later. In 2016, I began two years as superintendent. I soon realized my interests and skills were more aligned with the CBO role, so I returned to school business.
Q: What is your favorite memory as a CASBO member?
A: Talking to Ron Bennett at the CBO Symposium when he asked me, "Do you want to do real work, or do you want to be a superintendent?" Ron Bennett is an icon in California school business — shaping the careers of many people throughout the state for decades. When the board was pressuring me to take the superintendent position, I reached out to the professional network I built through my years in CASBO. I talked to CBOs who’ve been superintendents, including Ron. When I approached him at the event, he said, “You have a decision to make … do you want to worry about the care and feeding of a school board or do you want to do real work?” The work we do in school business is more tangible. You can see the product of your work every day. I thought of Ron’s question every day after I became the superintendent and finally heeding the advice of the most respected man in California school business led me back to doing what I enjoy.
Q: In what ways has CASBO helped you cultivate your career?
A: Continually building and adding to my professional network. An online social network is never going to replace the personal connections you make in a professional association and the camaraderie you experience when you are together with your peers. One of the things I did early when I transitioned from private sector to school district was go to the CASBO conference and sit in workshops outside of my own discipline. That’s how you learn! CASBO was instrumental in that.
Q: What are your career goals yet to be achieved?
A: In 15 years, I went from loss control analyst to superintendent. I've done a lot, but I haven't done it all. I reached the peak of school district leadership, but my heart is in school business. With more than 10 years remaining in my career, and a deep commitment to public education, I feel a personal responsibility to help develop the next generation of school business professionals.