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Finding service sharing synergy

Now that District 834 has approved its budget adjustments for the 2012-2013 school year, the district is looking at ways to avoid being in that position again.

District 834 School Board recently hosted a meeting with officials from Bayport, Hugo, Lakeland, Oak Park Heights, Stillwater, and Washington County, as well as Sen. Ted Lillie, to discuss ways the communities could work together to reduce expenses and become more efficient and innovative in their operations.

"Shared services is the buzz word right now," School Board Chairman George Dierberger said. "Everyone's feeling the pinch, so let's look at how we can help each other."

The leaders discussed ways they could partner together to share resources, streamline processes, and coordinate common projects in a more effective way.

Some of the topics discussed included: information technology; wellness programs; training opportunities; economic development; services such as snow plowing, lawn maintenance and street repair; facilities; health care; library systems; marketing; and employee contracts.

"We want to see if there is any synergy there," Dierberger said. "We want to be able to help out each other."

Dierberger said he would like to see the district have a savings of between $50,000 and $60,000.

After the initial meeting, sub-committees were formed to discuss the specific topics and what opportunities there are relating to those topics.

One of the possible service sharing options discussed would be to house public clinics within District 834 schools.

"Not only does that help our students and teachers that could help our senior citizens," Dierberger said.

Dierberger said housing clinics within schools would create tremendous benefits for those teachers who may feel under the weather, but aren't sure if they are contagious enough or sick enough to go home.

"If you've got a teacher who's not feeling well, they can walk right down the hall," he said. "That's a good thing because it keeps them in the building - that's a huge opportunity for us."

Superintendent Corey Lunn said housing clinics within the schools would be a tremendous saving on staff health costs since it would provide teachers' health care right inside the schools.

Dierberger also said the clinics could create interaction and volunteer opportunities for students.

The group of leaders plans to meet again this spring and possibly again this summer, to hash out some of the options before hopefully putting them into effect this fall.

"I'd love to test some of these things this fall," Dierberger said. "We need to test things first before you jump in with both feet."

However, the clinic proposal will take more time to research and to develop a plan, Dierberger said.

"I hope it takes root," he said. "This is kind of the way of the future with budgets being what they are.

"It's our responsibility to see if we can work together."

Lunn said proposed cost sharing initiatives will not only save the district money, they will potentially increase efficiencies in the schools and increase opportunities for students.

"We've got a lot more work to do - it's going to take a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of work," he said. "But in the end it's going to be a win-win for both our students and our staff."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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