Union 38 school lunch program seeks to reverse losses

  • Recorder Staff/Andy CastilloFrontier Regional School, as seen Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Recorder Staff

For the Gazette
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The Union 38 School District loses more than $107,000 on its food service each year. School officials are trying to change that.

“Our schools lunch programs, all five of them, are losing money. And we’re using educational dollars to supplement those programs,” district Business Manager Patti A. Cavanaugh told the School Committee recently.

A July report estimates the district could save more than $123,000 each year by making many small changes. Those items include revamping menus, reducing work hours and creating initiatives to encourage more student participation.

To implement those changes, committee members voted to hire a permanent food service director overseeing all five schools, with an estimated salary of around $59,000 per year. Previously, only three schools had direct supervision from a manager, who recently retired. The advertised salary represents a $7,000 increase for the position and requires more qualifications.

The vote comes after months of research into the district’s lunch programs. Earlier this year, the district hired JAH Associates, a consulting firm, to document best practices for $5,000 as outlined in the report.

A month later in August, at the auditor’s recommendation, the district hired Florrie Paige of Fit Foodie Consulting LLC as interim food service director at $125 per hour — the high wage “due to the fact that there was no documentation of systems and practices for our programs,” Superintendent Lynn Carey said.

“We also took this time to have her help us transition to Meals Plus (administrative software) in the three schools that did not have it already so we can be sure that our data from lunch counts, balances due and money collected will be computerized for more efficient record keeping,” she said.

Meals Plus also generates letters for parents to help them track their child’s balance.

Paige is working to streamline ordering, serving, presentation and enticing more students to participate. At the same time, individual school personalities will be maintained.

“Look at these expenses as an investment. If we (continue) going the old way, we will spend more than this,” said Gregory Gottschalk, a committee representative from Sunderland.

While most committee members voiced support, some raised monetary concerns — just in August, the interim manager cost $18,000 in fees.

Carey justified expenses as a necessary investment to streamline spending and boost revenue, “laying a documented foundation of routines and practices for the programs to follow.”

“We’re getting more bang for our buck. I can go to sleep at night and say, ‘I did my job, I did my due diligence,’” Carey said.

Over time, by implementing best practices cited in the report, Cavanaugh said expenses will be recouped.

“The small changes will grow into more changes, and it will eventually pay for itself,” Cavanaugh continued.

Now that hiring a full-time food service director has been approved, the search process initiated, Carey said Paige is being phased out.

Moving forward, based on a summary report from the committee, the district intends to “re-structure our staffing and our pay scales in the coming months,” naming managers in charge of each school, in turn reporting to the food service director.