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Committee throws community ed decision to DL school board

Mark Greenig is a hard man to replace.

The recently retired Detroit Lakes Community Education director was also the administrative chief of the Lincoln Education Center and its many programs -- Adult Basic Education/GED, Early Childhood Family Education, preschool Learning Readiness, high school driver's education, the Latchkey child-care program and even building rental.

An ad-hoc school board committee has been trying to decide how to fill Greenig's shoes, and on Tuesday it whittled the list of options down to a final two -- either contract with the Community Center to manage community education, or give the job to former superintendent Lowell Niklaus, who is now the district's education director.

Some of Niklaus' current duties would be assigned to other staff to manage the workload.

"If options 3 and 4 are the only options we're looking at, then I can start packing my bags for Lincoln -- because both have me going over there," noted Niklaus. He is a team player and is willing to do whatever is needed for the district, he added.

Money is an issue, with the district looking at $1.7 million in future cost containments, noted Superintendent Doug Froke.

The committee considered and rejected two other, more expensive, options -- hiring a new community education director, and hiring an unlicensed program coordinator, who would be supervised by a licensed director.

The district paid about $71,000 in salary and benefits to Greenig, which was three-quarters of the position's total compensation cost (the city paid the other 25 percent).

The school district figures it could save $4,000 to $28,000 by contracting with the community center to manage the community education program.

It would save $19,000 to $45,000 by adding community education director to Niklaus' responsibilities, according to a cost comparison put together by the school district.

Option 4 -- giving the job to Niklaus -- is the least expensive, said Business Manager Ted Heisserer.

"You're taking 1.75 administrators and making it one administrator -- that's why you save the money," he said.

The four committee members who attended Tuesday were unable to agree on a recommendation for the whole school board to consider.

Board Chairman Tom Klyve favors hiring a new community education director, or failing that, giving the job to Niklaus.

He is concerned about fragmentation of duties if the community center manages the program, and thinks an administrator should be on-site at the Lincoln Education Center.

"This issue is huge, that's why we're taking our time," he said. "The community center is a good place, run by good people, (but ) I think we can do it in-house."

"My concerns are longevity and having community partnerships," said School Board member Terri Boyd. "I'm still stuck between 3 and 4."

Later she spoke in favor of Option 4 -- giving the job to Niklaus -- in part because it will save the most money for the school district.

"I have to weigh Option 4 very, very heavily," she said. "I would vote for No. 4 if I had to vote right now."

Both options 3 and 4 will save money, noted School Board Member Barbara Boyle, who leaned towards the community center.

"I'm real excited about change and exploring something different," she said.

School Board member Dave Langworthy, who also sits on the community center board, agreed.

"What is going to give us the best outcome?" he asked. "What is going to grow community ed in the direction we want it to go?"

Several community center officers were on hand to make their pitch to the committee.

CEO Stu Omberg said the community center would bring additional value to the community education program. He presented a business model that includes vision, an operating model, outcomes and benchmarks.

The community center would get its overall strategy and programs from the existing Community Education Advisory Committee, but it would also boost participation through an awareness and branding program and marketing strategy.

It would research and develop new classes, collect community feedback, develop partnerships and provide management and direction.

At Niklaus' suggestion, the committee agreed to put together a "scope of work" document to be used as the basis of a contract with the community center. If the costs come in too high, the district can always go with the in-house option.

"We'll discuss it at the next school board meeting," Klyve said.