The West Fargo School District will say goodbye to the man who has helped manage two referendums totaling more than $200 million in the past four years.
After supervising the West Fargo School District’s budget, record growth and the addition of more than a dozen schools and facilities over the past two decades, Business Manager Mark Lemer will retire on Oct. 31.
Lemer, who recently turned 54, said he was actually eligible to retire in 2017, when then-Superintendent Dr. David Flowers announced his retirement followed by the retirement of Pete Diemert, the district’s longtime buildings and grounds manager, at a time when the school district was facing the need to pass another referendum to ease overcrowding with the addition of a third high school and middle school.
“I obviously just didn’t feel great about leaving right at the same time those positions were vacated, so I just kept accruing time,” Lemer said. “I decided now is probably not a bad time. It’s going to be a good time to get some work-life balance figured out.”
Superintendent Beth Slette said Lemer will be hard to replace.
"[His] extensive knowledge of the overall operations of a school district is beyond measure," Slettet said. "Not only is he exceptional at creating budgets that maximize our dollars, Mark also understands curriculum and instruction, special education, human resources, crisis management, transportation, food services, and facility construction and management. This allows him to find creative solutions that really take into account the comprehensive needs of the entire organization. "
Lemer, a Drake, N.D., native and Minot State University graduate, came to West Fargo Schools as business manager in September 1995. Between 2008 and 2010, Lemer left to work as a software consultant helping school districts such as Fargo's use an automated financial system.
Prior to coming to West Fargo, Lemer was the assistant director of school finance for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, a business manager in the Williston School District and before that, served as a school teacher in Riverdale, N.D.
Lemer said he doesn't yet have any big plans for after retirement but plans to stay in the metro area.
“I really don’t. Everybody is asking me what’s next,” Lemer said. “I don’t have a new job lined up outside of the district. I’m just planning to transition to something different.”
Lemer crunched the numbers behind successful bond referendums passed in 2002, 2005 and 2011, 2015, 2018, which has helped pay for more than a dozen elementary schools, the new hockey and aquatic centers, Cheney Middle School, Liberty Middle School and what eventually became Sheyenne High School.
"I believe the continued success of the district through this period of immense growth can largely be attributed to Mark’s leadership," Slette said. "He will be greatly missed, not only by our district, but also at the state level.”
Lemer said once growth began in West Fargo, it just seemed to take off.
“In the last couple years, it seems like it is happening faster and faster,” he said. “We hadn’t built an elementary school for years, then we built Aurora [Elementary School] and we didn’t have to build one for a while, but now we’re building one a year.”
While Lemer said the growth has been one of the district’s biggest challenges and what has made it an exciting place to be, it’s the people he will miss.
“All the people I’ve been able to work with, in the district and the community at large,” Lemer said. “I’ve worked with Fargo Parks, the two cities, West Fargo Park district, people in economic development, this job allows you to make a lot of connections throughout the community.”
While the school district’s fiscal year and most staff contracts end on June 30, Lemer said he chose an October retirement date to make it easier for his replacement to transition into the position.
“I purposely avoided a June 30 end date,” Lemer said. “[By fall] the old fiscal year has been closed, your new budget has been adopted, and you can come into the system at a point where there aren’t these big transition projects going on, such as closing out the budget year or developing the new budget.”
Slette said the district is looking nationwide to find Lemer's successor and the position is posted and will close to applicants on Aug. 5.
The school district hopes to hire a new business manager by mid-September, which would allow time for Lemer to work with the new hire and make the transition smoother for all.