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February 21, 2019

1/24/2019 2:47:00 PM
Unit 2 seeks bids on contracting school food services
Less red ink, less paperwork and more students eating school meals could be the outcomes of turning over food services at Robinson Unit 2 schools to a contractor.

The Unit 2 board Tuesday agreed to call for bids for a food services management company to take over the school breakfast and lunch programs at its four schools.

Through funded through the federal government, the school food program runs $80,000 to $100,000 in the red annually, Superintendent Josh Quick said.

The problem is that the schools are serving fewer and fewer meals. In six years, the number of student meals sold has dropped by 45,000 meals annually, or 33 percent. Fewer meals means less federal reimbursement.

The drops date back to about the time federal requirements concerning what foods had to be served changed. Quick said he understands why the changes were made but added something needs to be done to make the healthier foods more appealing to students.

"This is not a reflection on the current staff or what they're doing," Quick explained.

In fact, part of the problem is that cafeteria workers spend time that could be used planning and preparing meals filling out federally-mandated paperwork showing compliance with the guidelines. Quick and Administrative Secretary Carla Sinclair are required to take 12 hours of training each year because they oversee the cafeterias.

This would change if a management company took over, according to representatives of Oppa!, a food services company from Missouri.

The two Oppa! employees detailed their services to the board Tuesday and were expected to make a similar pitch to the Hutsonville Unit 1 board later in the evening.

The 40-year-old, family-owned company specializes in food services for schools. It has been growing in recent years and is now in seven states. It expanded into Illinois in 2017 and now serves nine school districts, including Dieterich.

A management service would take over much of the menu planning and the paperwork. It would provide a variety of meals created to meet all requirements and appeal to students. It would also use its purchasing power to buy food at a lower price than an individual district could.

Cafeteria workers would be free to concentrate on making meals. They would likely remain Unit 2 employees, at least at first. The district would have the option of keeping it that way, or as workers left through attrition, replacing them with personnel employed by the service. The board would still have final approval of all workers, however.

Quick said he hopes to have bid specifications ready for the February meeting. Bids would likely not be considered until the March or April meetings. And, Quick pointed out, there is no guarantee the board will switch to a service.

The possible addition of fall baseball and softball for Nuttall Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders is once again under consideration.

Robinson High School baseball coach Reggie Truitt and softball coach Mark Brayfield told the board they want to establish feeder programs that will prepare young players for when they reach high school. As of the 2019-20 school year, Unit 2 will be the only district in the conference without fall ball programs.

"We want to start working with them before they get to high school," Truitt said.

"We feel we have the support of the administration and the athletic director," he added, explaining he and Brayfield had met with NMS principal Craig Beals and AD Kelly Brookman. He added they had no intention of interfering with existing athletic programs.

"We're not here to steal football players from JFL," he said. "We're not here to force kids to decide."

In fact, Brayfield said at his former district, when fall ball was added, participation in all autumn athletics increased.

If the programs were approved, seventh- and eighth-graders would play on combined teams. Practice would start at the end of July and regionals would be in mid-September. The coaches said they believed the cost would be "reasonable" and should drop after the first year.

The teams could play at a field a local man hopes to have constructed at RHS.

In December, Justin Legg of Crossroads Sporting Events told the board he is looking into raising money to install and maintain a new diamond at RHS for the Lady Maroons softball team. The softball team now plays at the Robinson City Park each spring.

Moving the girls back to the school would free park diamonds for use by travel ball tournaments that generate revenues for the city. It would also eliminate the need to move equipment and the potentially dangerous need for students to leave school grounds to practice and play.

Tuesday, Legg said a basic diamond, possibly south of the football field, could be built this year for $35,000 to $45,000. Lighting and other items could be added later. The field would belong to Unit 2, but the construction costs would be covered through donations.

In personnel matters, the board hired Ciarah Hetzler as a Washington Elementary School lunchroom supervisor, Emily Vahling as a Lincoln Elementary School reading aide, Libby Fearday as parent and family coordinator and Khristian Reynolds as an RHS assistant baseball coach.

Terry Inboden, Lori Treadway, Kristine Tuel, Tarita Siler, Stephanie Dean and Lori Favata were hired as Title I tutors at LES. Rick Johnson was approved as a volunteer assistant baseball coach at RHS and the resignation of bus driver Stephanie North was accepted.

Quick also filled the board in on known staffing needs for the 2019-20 school year.

A fifth-grade teacher will be needed at LES, while NMS needs to fill a special education position and a social studies spot.

RHS will need to fill a social studies/English position as well as vacancies for a Spanish teacher and a health/physical education teacher. The board would still like to add a business teacher at the high school, too.

The board was also updated on goals members set for the district following the 2017 school board election. The goals covered areas such as curriculum, personnel, buildings and grounds, safety and security, staff training and finances.

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