Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Schnoor helps municipalities navigate finances

Sara Schnoor

The different ways elected boards function never ceases to intrigue 2003 alum Sara Schnoor.

As a senior portfolio advisor at PMA Financial Network in Milwaukee, Schnoor helps county boards and other Wisconsin governments and their staff make financial decisions as they manage their cash flow, and navigate new state policies and state budget changes.

"We are constantly evolving and shaping our services to help municipalities handle situations efficiently," Schnoor says. "On a daily basis, I may provide a client with a cash-flow analysis or other financial calculation. For example, a county may have a building project underway. We will assist the county in investing borrowed funds, tracking funds through the duration of the project and reviewing the portfolio for compliance with regulations.

"Recently, we built a cash-flow analysis for a technical college to help them understand their financial peaks and valleys on an annual basis," Schnoor says. "Typically, technical colleges have a lot of cash on hand in January and February when they receive tax revenues and tuition, then income is limited until a final tax distribution and tuition payments are received in August. We help clients to understand what their cash flow looks like and help them make short-term investments until excess funds are needed."

Schnoor has been seeing more of county boards around Wisconsin thanks to a partnership between PMA and the Wisconsin Counties Association. "I have been going to county board meetings and seeing how those boards function," Schnoor says. "What I love about my work is seeing all these different interactions and how the different levels of government operate."

Schnoor knew she was interested in local government when she started the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs degree program in 2001, although she did test out state service as a legislative page at the Capitol during her first year.

"I liked the flexibility. La Follette allowed me to take classes in a number of different areas," Schnoor says. "I focused on state and local finance with professor Andrew Reschovsky, and I was able to take classes in urban planning and education so I could understand school finance and all that plays a part in decision-making related to planning and growth. I really appreciated the fact that I was able to get that core group of classes at La Follette and then pick up those electives in specific program areas."

During her second year at La Follette, Schnoor explored her interest in local government as a project assistant with Dennis Dresang as part of his research into public health in Wisconsin. That experience and his course on local government employment practices gave her a good foundation. "I loved participating in a small program at a large university and having access to all of the difference resources at UW, while also living in the state capital and having access to resources and networking opportunities with staff at the state of Wisconsin," says Schnoor, who graduated from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. "You are in the middle of everything while getting a great education."

Schnoor also values the close friendships she formed with a number of La Follette graduates. She also has appreciated getting to know alumni she meets through her participation in various professional organizations.

When she started at La Follette, Schnoor anticipated she would become a city administrator. But 2003 was a year when the state of Wisconsin made large cuts in state aid to municipalities, so entry-level job openings as assistant administrators weren't available.

"I went to Chicago hoping something would work out, and it did," says Schnoor, who interned with the city of Chicago's budget office during the summer between her two years at La Follette. "I was lucky. Moody's Investors Service was opening an office in Chicago and they wanted to hire Midwesterners. Looking back at my career, I can clearly see how La Follette was the foundation for my later success. I believe a key part of being hired at Moody's was the credibility of my MPA."

After a couple of years as a senior associate and bond rating analyst with hundreds of municipalities and school districts as clients, Schnoor moved back to Wisconsin to serve as management assistant with the village of Whitefish Bay near Milwaukee. She returned to the private sector a few years later to join PMA. She contributes her public management expertise by serving on the village of Shorewood's Board of Review and the board of directors for Girls on the Run Greater Milwaukee.

Although she does not do a lot of policy analysis per se, Schnoor says about 75 percent of her time is spent on quantitative tasks. "I spend a lot of time working on spreadsheets, which is not what I pictured as a political science and sociology major," she says. "But I like it — I wish I had taken more of those quantitative courses when I had the chance."

She adds that her La Follette training gives her a valuable insight into the forces that affect local governments. "I hope to help them understand the opportunities local governments have to make changes and what the impact would be from a financial perspective," she says. "Given my work experience and thanks to the foundation of my degree in public affairs, I strive to provide thoughtful solutions to public entities in Wisconsin."

— updated April 24, 2014