Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Johnson Retires after 18 years at SLE


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Seeley Lake Elementary District Clerk/Business Manager Sally Johnson is retiring April 30 after 18 years.

SEELEY LAKE – After working 18 years for Seeley Lake Elementary (SLE) as the District Clerk/Business Manager, Sally Johnson is retiring April 30. While she will miss the interactions with people at the school, she is looking forward to focusing more on relationships and less on the day-to-day routine.

Prior to moving to Seeley Lake, Johnson worked in Seattle, Wash. for the Seattle Public Library. She started as an administrative secretary, became the budget manager and spent eight months as the management services manager that oversaw personnel, finance, budgeting, capital improvements and building and grounds.

When she left, Johnson was the business manager overseeing the financial budgeting for the library. She worked directly with the library's board of directors.

Johnson moved to Seeley Lake to be close to her family. She took a part-time job for the Seeley Lake Water District.

Johnson saw the advertisement for the SLE District Clerk/Business Manager advertised in the Seeley Swan Pathfinder and applied because it was full time and seemed like the perfect fit.

"When I saw the application [for the SLE position], it just seemed like it fit all the things I had been involved with," said Johnson. "It was exciting to be able to incorporate all my other experience into this experience."

Johnson replaced Kathy Teague as the District Clerk/Business Manager for Seeley Lake School District 34 in September, 1998 after Teague choose to move to a para-educator position.

Per state law for the district clerk position, Johnson's duties included: attending and taking minutes at the board of trustee meetings; being the custodian of all documents, records and reports of the district; keeping accounting records for the district and prepare the annual trustees' report.

SLE Superintendent John Hebnes hired Johnson. Johnson said he was a good mentor for introducing her to school finance because "as much as I had government background, school finance is completely different." Johnson was not used to dealing with multiple funds with different requirements and taxing on each fund.

For the first 10 years of the position, Johnson said she worked with five different superintendents. Current superintendent Chris Stout has been at SLE for eight years.

"Each superintendent brought a strength. But I would say that if you want a quality school, you need to have more longevity in your superintendent," said Johnson. "We've been very fortunate with Chris because he has been willing and able to be here for eight years. I've enjoyed working with Chris because he always has some new ideas. It is always for the betterment of the kids to improve the opportunities they have."

Johnson believes that the longevity in the current leadership from Stout has created a culture of excellence at SLE because of the emphasis on the staffs' professional development. It has also enabled SLE to develop long-term plans and a vision for the school.

"When you have continual turnover of your leadership, then no one really is in charge," said Johnson. "The challenges I've seen the school overcome are gaining stability in the leadership level. We've been very fortunate having Chris who has come up through the ranks and enjoys the community."

Johnson said the SLE board of trustees has also been helpful because of their consistency. There has been a mixture of trustees who have served for multiple terms providing a historic perspective and new trustees with fresh ideas.

"That mixture is very nice and that is what has made a difference, I think, in being able to retain superintendents and having that consistency," said Johnson. "I've appreciated that board members have come on with no agenda, just a desire to ensure that our students are getting the best education."

In addition to fulfilling the state requirements as the clerk, Johnson said there has been an evolution of other tasks she has been assigned. After the part-time principal position was eliminated, Johnson's position took on review of grants and supervising the kitchen. Johnson also wrote a few grants for the district and managed concessions, something that is not a part of her official duties.

While the district employs Johnson, she said there are many days that she feels like she works for the state. This is because of the reports required and deadlines that have to be met.

"The state requirements have increased considerably as far as work load and reporting. Some are necessary and some are not," said Johnson.

Johnson said that she, along with the other district clerks across the state, are on pins and needles when the legislature is in session.

"We are anxiously awaiting the end of it so we know what the next two years will be like," said Johnson.

Johnson laughed and said that her greatest challenge has been keeping track of all of her passwords for the state programs.

On a more serious note, Johnson said this position has taught her to let go of perfectionism, "which is an unattainable goal." She also came to the realization that the work is never done.

"Being able to walk out, close the door and go home knowing that it will be there tomorrow," said Johnson.

Johnson said she loved the variety saying that no day was ever the same.

"What made the job really enjoyable was the staff, students, the board members and the people I worked with," said Johnson.

Johnson enjoyed the humorous students would say. Johnson recalled the story of a little kindergartner coming into the office and telling Suzie Teafoe that he needed some help because his head was beeping.

"Beep, was a headache but he didn't know how to communicate that," said Johnson laughing.

While Johnson could not name a specific accomplishment during her career, she said she was a steady person through the transition of superintendents. She also felt being a positive, problem solver was something she brought to the school.

"When there is a problem, I look for win-win situations that benefit the kids and the institution," said Johnson. "I don't know whether I'm [the positive, problem solver] or if I was just supportive of those efforts."

When the Lolo School District Clerk retired in December, Johnson said she realized that she didn't have to wait until the end of the fiscal year to retire. She decided April 30 would be her last day because she has a grandnephew graduating in Albuquerque, N.M. and she will be attending a conference in Kentucky in May that would require time off. She also knew that if she went through the end of the fiscal year at the end of June, she would have to stay until September to finalize the budget and complete all the reports required by the state.

"I didn't want to lose another summer," said Johnson.

Johnson said she will miss the interactions with a wide variety of people because, "here it just comes to you." She also expects not working will be an adjustment, since, "I've always worked."

Johnson will be serving on the Seeley Lake Community Council starting in May and is looking forward to the larger overview of the community that it will provide. She is also planning on traveling, looking forward to participating in more Bible studies and spending time in prayer.

"I'm feeling very energized about retirement because there are some things I would like to do," said Johnson. "I've recognized that the future is shorter than the past. I want to focus more on relationships and less on day-to-day duties."


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