Change could be coming to the school district’s food services program, change that could affect the employment of cafeteria workers throughout the town’s four schools.
As School Superintendent C. Richard Canfield begins the process of putting together his budget for next year, he has started exploring ways in which he can save money without sacrificing programs.
One possible savings that is being investigated is turning over the school’s food services program to an outside company, the superintendent said.
“I do need to feed the kids and feed them well, but if I can save money on that in order to preserve programs, I’m going to do that,” Dr. Canfield said.
The change would affect the school district’s 24 cafeteria workers. Last year, the school department spent a total of $636,432 on its food service program, according to figures provided by schools business manager Michelle J. Austin. Nearly half that amount, $309,072 was spent on salaries, while the remainder was spent on food, maintenance, supplies and uniforms, and taxes. Food costs nearly matched the salaries expense, at $302,947. The superintendent declined to comment on how much he expected he could save by going to an outside firm because he is just starting his investigation.
“We owe it to the taxpayers to look into it,” Ms. Austin said. She echoed Dr. Canfield’s assertion that the school administration is just at the exploration stage, and added that “we are not looking to put anyone out on the street.”
Dr. Canfield said that he has already met with food service workers and told them what he is doing. He said that after that meeting, many of the workers approached him with gratitude that he had spoken to them personally before they heard it through the rumor mill. He noted that some people in the administration confronted him and said it was insensitive of him to bring it up right at holiday time.
“I said there’s never a good time,” the superintendent said, pointing out that budget negotiations begin as soon as the Christmas break is over.
“It was more important to me that I have that meeting when I could as opposed to starting the budget conversation and have people hear it second or third hand,” he said.
The superintendent also said that he would expect any outside company looking to take over the district’s food services would want to keep the existing workers in place, at least for the first year. He would expect any bids to contain such language.
“Think about it, if you were coming in here to take over food services, what would be your best source?” he said, pointing out that the current cafeteria workers already know the kitchens, the schools, and the clientele.
“They know our students, our faculty, our administrators,” he said.
After that first year, however, the company would make its own decisions with regards to keeping on staff.
“If you are a good worker with a good work ethic then you have a promise of continuous employment; if you’re not, then the company is going to make the decision that most companies make, and that’s probably the way it should be,” he said.
At a meeting of the board of selectmen and the school committee earlier this month, Town Manager George H. Dunham told both boards that a two percent increase in the budgets for both the general government and the school department, along with a projected 10.6 percent increase in school assessments, would still leave the town with a deficit of a little less than $200,000. Dr. Canfield told the board that in order to provide the same level services and programs next year he would need a 4.8 percent increase in the school budget. The superintendent said that anything less would lead to a reduction in certified and non-certified positions.
“The most important thing we do is educate the kids, and that means instructionally what we do in the classrooms, the programs that we run, and first and foremost, we should be protecting that,” he said. He said that he feels an obligation to the town’s residents whose tax dollars fund the school system.
“They don’t do it with the idea that our primary job is to provide adults with jobs; our primary goal is to educate children,” he said.