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Perham school 'outsources' business management

The Perham school district will be contracting for business management services starting with the new fiscal year, July 1.

Though it will be a different contractual arrangement, the school will still have the same business manager: Kirsti Werner. Last month, Werner submitted her resignation from the business management position to take a similar position with the Lake Country Service Cooperative, which provides special services to school districts in the region on what is essentially an "outsourced" basis.

Under the contract, LCSC would provide the equivalent of 175 days of business management service for $48,000.

The move is intended, in part, to save money. With salary, benefits, vacation and retirement, Werner's total compensation as the Perham school business manager was probably more than $60,000.

While it appears a $22,000 savings on the surface, some school board members questioned it--because Werner's availability when she was on staff and on-site included a number of clerical and support duties. As a contract manager, Werner would work off-site, to a large degree, at LCSC headquarters in Fergus Falls.

"What about the work that isn't going to get done with Kirsti gone?" asked Board Chair Jim Rieber. "When we downsize or rightsize, it is all fine, but we still need to understand if the existing staff get the work done--or do we need to hire another person."

Board member Mike Hamann expressed the most adamant concern with the idea of losing an on-site business manager, with other duties, for what he felt was limited savings--particularly if clerical help is hired to pick up slack.

"I was sold on this (contract business management) before, but the cost is much higher than I thought it would be," said Hamann.

But board member Dave Schornack countered that the cooperative, which works with many school districts, would have access to resources and expertise that the Perham schools couldn't possibly afford.

"With the co-op having an association with so many other schools, the business manager encounters so many other situations and may come back with ideas we never would have thought of," said Schornack.

Superintendent Tamara Uselman acknowledged that, by going to contract business management, the cost-savings to the district may not be as great in the short run. But based on salary surveys, indicating that $60,000 is about the "market rate" for a business manager (not including various benefits), Uselman believes that the school would eventually pay far more if it were to try to retain a full-time, on-site business manager.

When the matter came to a vote, it was 6-1, with board member Hamann the only no vote.