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Yellow Springs Schools— District scraps lunch provider

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With the start of the new school year next week, a new food service company will be providing lunches at Yellow Springs public schools.

The school board voted in favor of the change at its most recent meeting Thursday, Aug. 8.

The action was in response to a recommendation by new Superintendent Terri Holden, who, in a followup interview this week, said that communication difficulties with the previous provider, Sodexo, had prompted her to seek an alternative arrangement.

Basically, Sodexo, an international corporation whose U.S. corporate offices are in Gaithersburg, Md., and closest regional office is in Middletown, Ohio, didn’t return phone calls, Holden said.

“I got a little anxious when we could not reach anyone,” she said.

Although the school board in July had approved continuing with the company for another year, the district was still without a signed contract this month, as the first day of school drew close, Holden said.

That fact, coupled with growing dissatisfaction among students for the food Sodexo provides, led Holden to act in recommending the change to the school board, she said.

High school students had made their feelings known in a presentation to the board, as well as in a student-produced article in the Yellow Springs News, this past spring. They based their findings on a survey of students and research into healthy lunch needs, and they called for more food choices for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free eaters, as well as fresher options for all.

“I think everybody knew we needed a change,” Holden said, adding that she hadn’t anticipated making it so soon in her new tenure. Her intention had been to stick with Sodexo for another year as she more deeply explored food service options.

The district is now pursuing a “request for proposals” to find a new provider, and in the meantime, the board has approved a six-month contract with the northern Pennsylvania-based Nutrition Group.

Holden said that the company, which is the lunch provider for Greene County Career Center, had made a bid a couple of years ago to work with Yellow Springs, and she wasn’t sure why the district went with Sodexo at that time, though she assumes it was a difference in cost. (A request to the district for food contract cost figures had not been answered as of press time.)

“A low price is good, unless kids are not eating the food, and then you have a problem,” Holden said.

As for the five to six local food service employees who had worked for Sodexo at Mills Lawn and McKinney Middle/Yellow Springs High School, Holden said that Nutrition Group “has a desire to bring them back,” with the exception of one employee who was suspended last year over concerns about public and private Facebook posts  that were considered inappropriate.

“The beauty of most food service programs is its local workers,” Holden said.

In other recent school board business:

Agraria bike trail update

David Diamond, education coordinator for Agraria, informed the board that the organization’s Clean Ohio Trails Fund grant request to help fund a bike trail from East Enon Road to the Agraria farm property on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road had been turned down as proposed.

The anticipated trail would run along the south side of the middle/high school property, and the board in January had approved writing a letter of support for providing an easement for the trail’s construction.

Diamond said that the Clean Ohio Trails Fund administrators thought that an easement wasn’t enough, and wanted Agraria to buy the section of property required to build the trail.

He asked that the school board consider making the sale, and in the meantime, write a new letter indicating its intention to sell to Agraria, so that the nonprofit could reapply for the Clean Ohio grant.

“The sooner, the better,” Diamond said.

The proposed trail would help villagers, as well as students who go to Agraria for outdoor lessons, have easier access to the property.

Treasurer’s report

Interim Treasurer Tammy Emrich reported that fiscal year 2020, which began July 1, faces a projected deficit of $541,349, with anticipated revenues of $9,454,821, and expenditures of $9,996,170.

Later in the meeting, Board President Steve Conn said that the board is working with the interim treasurer to determine the causes of the deficit and “to get back in the black” for the new budget year. 

Related to the budget, Superintendent Holden also reported that federal funding for Title I and Tittle II programs, which provide money for disadvantaged students and teacher training, respectively, had been reduced for the coming year.

The district is facing a decrease of about  $9,400 from these programs, she said.

First reading of policy updates

The board approved first readings of several policy updates:

•A section on career advising requires re-approval every two years;

•A section on school choice options features a slight revision in language to refer to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which has taken the place of the No Child Left Behind Act;

•A section on removal, suspension, expulsion and permanent exclusion of students, as well as one on emergency removal of students, reflects new state legislation limiting such actions in pre-kindergarten through third-grade; and

•A section on food services reflects a request from the USDA allowing students more choices for food substitutions, according to Holden.

Board members are expected to vote on a second and final reading of the policy revisions at their regular meeting in September.

Superintendent’s report

Holden reported that the facilities task force’s continuing work has led the district to complete several technology-related updates in the buildings.

Most significantly, the main server at the middle/high school has been moved from a room on the third floor to the first, where the temperature can be better regulated. Overheating had led to frequent server shutdowns.

The district has also installed battery backups in all server rooms and replaced the main switch and print server. Off-site data back-up is awaiting installation, Holden said.

Holden is also seeking a quote on installing a key-card entry system at both school campuses. The superintendent said she believes that key cards provide better school security, as they monitor building access.

Personnel contracts

The board approved Margaret Swanson as the district’s public records clerk at $15.64 per hour, as needed.

Supplemental contracts for the 2019–20 school year were approved for Brian Mayer as high school band director, high school orchestra director and high school pep band leader; and David Smith as high school leadership council advisor.

Other contracts approved this summer for the new school year went to Susan Griffith as executive assistant mentor and Deeper Learning Training Center coordinator, each at $31 an hour for up to  30 hours a month; Nicolas Trimbach as high school men’s head basketball coach; Andrew Tincher as high school men’s reserve basketball coach; and Mark Breza as high school men’s assistant soccer coach.

Substitute teacher contracts, at $90 a day and $45 a half day, have been approved for Elliot Cromer, Mary Graham, William Green, Sarah Jako, Carlos Landaburu, Kathryn Laurens, Sarah Mabra, Lynn Millar, Tracy Perkins-Schmittler, Cassandra Smith, Cynthia Swanson and Aaron Zaremsky.

Next meeting

The school board is next scheduled to meet Thursday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m., in the John Graham Conference Room at Mills Lawn.


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