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Opponents say Frazee school board playing "dirty" with custodial company

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Opponents say Frazee school board playing "dirty" with custodial company
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

After about two years with custodial company Marsden, the Frazee-Vergas School Board voted Monday night to terminate the district's contract with the company.

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It wasn't a unanimous vote though, nor were board members happy about the information presented.

Board member Dana Laine called it a "travesty" to walk out on a contact with a company that's done fine work and without a back-up plan.

Superintendent Chuck Cheney presented the board with information about how much it's costing the district to have the contract with Marsden. He said the district could be saving money -- about $40,000 a year -- if it staffed its own personnel rather than continuing services with Marsden.

At the meeting, Cheney corrected his findings to say the district would have to spend about $25,000 to replace the equipment that Marsden supplied when it took over the custodial portion of the district.

Prior to Marsden, the district employed the custodians. Since Marsden came on board, the district employs three custodians, and the remaining staff are hired through Marsden.

Board member Keith Janu said that Cheney's numbers were off, and that he wasn't comparing apples to apples, because many services Marsden supplies weren't included in Cheney's cost list. He listed 19 items he said Cheney didn't include when preparing the list.

For example, he said that a pay difference for a supervisor wasn't included, the extra pay for staff to interview and hire custodians wasn't included, and advertising for open positions were a few that Janu listed.

When Janu asked Cheney about the absent items, Cheney said they were "certainly valid concerns" but that he wasn't going to argue about it at the meeting.

Marsden representative Larry Oelke debated the information, saying that Marsden actually saves the district about $135,700 a year.

"If we're leaving tonight, $226,000 is the only thing leaving," he said of the fee the district pays to Marsden on an annual basis. The remainder of the costs including consumables, equipment and maintenance, would remain.

Marsden, he continued, incurs other costs not listed in Cheney's presentation, including chemicals, equipment and paint, which are included in the Marsden contract.

Plus, he argued, if the school ends its contract and goes back to buying its own supplies, the district will pay more than Marsden does because of the company's buying power -- it buys in bulk because of it's contracted services with several school districts.

He added that the district isn't going to save $40,000 if it has to buy all of the items Marsden now supplies.

"Honestly and truthfully, I believe you are not going to save anything," Oelke said.

Since Cheney and Oelke had just met Monday, besides some conversations via e-mail previous to the meeting, Laine asked that the matter be placed on the April agenda so the board would have more time to think about the contract, and Cheney could get better numbers for a savings comparison.

"We can never compare apples to apples," board member Rich Ziegler said he was told a couple years ago when the district was talking about contracting with Marsden in the first place.

He added that Marsden could always find another line item to go over, and that he didn't see the point of dragging out the vote another month.

Janu called the question, ending the debate. The board then voted 6-1 to end the contract, with Jim Nelson voting opposed. The motion to postpone the vote on Marsden's contract until the April meeting failed 3-4, with Janu, Laine and Steve Jepson voting to postpone it a month.

Ziegler then made a motion to terminate the contract at the end of the month, with 60 days notice, so Marsden would be done by the end of May.

"I am not satisfied with the amount of information or time to review (the information)," Laine said.

Janu added that he could find at least $60,000 in costs to the district not noted in Cheney's presentation.

Janu and Laine voted against the motion to terminate the contract, Ziegler, Nelson, Ken Fett and Matt Bauer voted to terminate, and Jepson abstained from the vote.

Immediately after the vote on the custodial services, the board voted to approve the one-year contract with Cheney as superintendent.

Last month the board voted to extend Cheney's contract as part-time for one more year -- though Janu voted against it -- but when it came time to vote Monday, Laine and Janu loudly opposed Cheney's contract.

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