CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The School Committee is holding off on a decision to contract with North Adams to feed its elementary schoolchildren.
The committee has mulling whether to contract out the cafeteria. There are some staffing changes occurring and there are some equipment needs, leading officials to consider which direction to take.
Cory Nicholas, food service director for the North Adams Public Schools, gave a presentation on Thursday night explained to the committee how he would provide breakfast and lunch to the school.
"You're considering bringing North Adams on board as a sponsor for Clarksburg Elementary School," he said. "North Adams' school food service operates cash-flow positive, self-sustaining and standalone. So there's a completely separate revolving account from City Hall in North Adams and from the North Adams Public Schools, so that's important."
Nicholas said the food service budget is about $1.2 million to $1.3 million this year and Clarksburg would represent $70,000 to $80,000 in revenue or about 6 percent of the budget. There would be no additional service, food or labor costs to Clarksburg with the exception of outstanding student lunch debt.
The food service department already contracts out to two other schools, including Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School in Adams.
Nicholas said his department would take over all free and reduced lunch applications, all reporting requirements and monitoring, the yearly performance-based funding applications and the state administrative reviews.
It will also take over all labor, supplies, policies, nutritional standards, maintenance and daily operations. Other benefits would be providing a point of sale system that includes an online system for parents to add funds and see what they're children are eating and software tracking of any nutritional and allergy issues for children.
All of the food will be prepared at Drury High School and, because of the volume the school district goes through, Clarksburg students will have greater variety of higher quality food, Nicholas said.
"One of the greatest benefits is just the sheer volume of what North Adams purchases and offers through our various vendors and just the sheer options that are out there, with the goal of increasing participation," he said, later adding, "We serve over a 1,000 meals a day just for lunch there. We go through $5,000 worth of produce a week."
The school could decide annually whether to continue the contract. However, the school would have to use an alternative, such as prepackaged foods, should Drury High School close on a school day and its current cafeteria workers would have to apply to work for North Adams.
Nicholas said a January snapshot of Clarksburg showed a 12 percent breakfast participation and 60 percent for lunch, compared to 80 percent for both at the city's elementary schools.
"The school is at 40 percent free and reduced meal application," Nicholas said. "Forty percent of the kids are at or below the poverty level but only 20 kids are participating of that 40 percent. So you're missing about 58 kids that need to be eating breakfast every day, who should be eating breakfast every day."
Superintendent John Franzoni referred to the successful breakfast program that was implemented at the city's Brayton Elementary School during his time as principal there. Clarksburg might not institute that particular program but it could go with an option more suitable for that school.
"What I've heard is here is the kids don't want to participate because they feel they're being identified as needing help," he said. "It could be helpful to get our students to eat. ... There's a lot of points to this to see what is the best way."
He also said Nicholas has focused on healthier eating, ensuring quality fresh fruits and vegetables since taking over the food service department.
"It's about improving the quality for students ... and I now from firsthand experience the quality Cory brings with more variety and quality," Franzoni said. "The cafeteria managers are doing the best they can but their background is not the same as his is in creating meals and bringing quality products in."
A few parents and teachers attended the meeting and expressed concern over the loss of the cafeteria at the small school. Kindergarten teacher Kathy Howe said her pupils often pick the "lunch ladies" as the recipients of their message exercise. Another teacher told how the cafeteria workers knew exactly what she needed when she called down for a special sandwich to soothe a child her in class.
There was also the feeling that breakfast numbers were unlikely to improve because they believed that Clarksburg parents were more likely feeding their children before sending them to school.
Principal Tara Barnes said she'd had informal talks with the staff about changing the cafeteria.
"I think the overwhelming feeling of the staff here is that we have this small school we're really proud of and we love having a kitchen where kids can go in and there's food there," she said. "There's this piece that's intangible that — I hope I'm speaking correctly for the staff here — that they really love having a kitchen and they love having the kids smell the food when they come, and know there's a person there that helped make their food for them today."
The School Committee decided to delay action for the moment. Chairwoman Patricia Prenguber said she wanted to look into the situation in the school cafeteria and visit North Adams Public Schools program.
In other business, the committee approved six school-choice slots for kindergarten next year. Franzoni also reported that the teachers union had agreed to a one-year contract extension with a 1.5 percent salary raise. The extension was to allow the possible merger with Stamford School in Vermont to play out before beginning negotiations. The next Interstate School Merger Committee meeting will take place April 27 in Stamford.
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Superintendent John Franzoni said the Department of Education has told school officials to take a deeper look at regionalization with other school districts beyond an interstate agreement with Stamford, Vt.
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