The Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 school board gave a consensus of approval Jan. 7 for Superintendent Keith Laser to hire Berry Talbot Royer Certified Public Accountants (BTR) for the system’s financial work. Efforts to replace Finance Manager Kathleen Pearce have yielded few candidates. Applications for the job closed Jan. 3.
Laser said Pearce mentioned the Falmouth-based firm as a solution and the name continued to surface at workshops Laser attended. Though the hiring process is under the superintendent’s purview, Laser ran it by Chair John Bertolet, who suggested it be brought before the board for a consensus. Laser said that with Boothbay Harbor’s permission, Pearce will continue to work for AOS 98 into the budget season “until we're standing on our own two feet.”
BTR Director of Financial Reporting Services Marc Roy spoke about the company’s place in a niche of back-office finance.
“We’ve been doing this for two years. We have three school clients, one town client and one county client … All of the clients we've taken on have either been because they've withdrawn from existing school districts or they're in this situation where their finance director is leaving and they can't find somebody.”
BTR has been doing AOS 98's audits for the past several years, so it should have a relatively simple transition to the new work, said Laser. Roy said on average it has been taking about a year to work out all the kinks for other clients, but since the firm is familiar with Pearce's work, it should only take two to three months to slide into the role.
Roy said the firm has been through a learning curve with current clients and has figured out how much it should be making and how long running the back-office business of a school district should take. “I don't want to take a year's hit of basically a loss … My price I'm trying to hit on average is $100 an hour, which means I'm bidding this thinking on average it will take our staff 1,000 billable hours for one year to do.”
If there was no one at all working in the AOS 98 office, Roy said it would easily take 2,000 hours of work per year. That is why accounts payable officer Paula Emerson will need to stay on and process financial details and be a contact for Roy's firm.
Roy said whatever time the work ends up taking plays into the second year's costs. Usually, there is an increase in cost the second year, but that can go either way, he said.
“The first year is just a huge level of effort just to transition and depending on how messy clients were. Sebago School Department didn't have prior books, so that wasn't particularly messy to take on …"
Roy pointed out to the committee that costs linked to Pearce's salary and benefits as well as payroll taxes, training, software and audit fees will decrease. “These are the variables that will change once we come on … and you're already looking at around $150,000 worth of costs.”
Laser said the next step would be either hiring BTR or reopening applications and risking the absence of a financial officer in the middle of the budget season. “When I started thinking about how we were going to go forward – they're familiar with us, they're professionals and they do this for a living. The more I thought about it, it's not a steep learning curve … and I feel comfortable that they know how to do all this stuff.”