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Homer-Center School Board rejects food service outsourcing

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 9:13 p.m.

Homer-Center School Board is going to keep its own employees in charge of the district's cafeteria — at least for now.

The board voted 6-2-1 last Thursday to reject the latest bid from outside contractor Nutrition Inc. to take over management of the district food service.

It was the second round of bids the board sought over the past year as it considered options for reversing past financial losses at the cafeteria.

H-C cafeteria workers and supporters who packed the central office board room responded with lengthy applause when the school board passed the motion to reject, in a late addition to the agenda.

Julie Rado and Fred Hayes opposed the motion — with Hayes, who participated by phone, reversing his initial vote to reject. James McLoughlin, who is married to district food service director Susan McLoughlin, abstained.

“The bid has been rejected, and the status quo will remain at Homer-Center,” board President Vicki Smith noted.

Len Black, president of the union local that represents the cafeteria workers and other H-C support staff, thanked the board for its vote and suggested it's time representatives for the district and the union resume contract talks that have reached an impasse.

“There's still work to be done,” Black said, adding, “I'm willing to sit down with the board. We need to work things out.”

“Thanks for offering the olive branch,” board member Kimberly Thomas responded.

“Right now we're at a standstill, and that can't be,” Smith remarked.

Smith said the vote to maintain the status quo, with district employees continuing to run the cafeteria” was the “right decision. It does put Homer-Center and our kids first.”

Smith later explained that the bid from Nutrition proposed a district profit of $25,000 from the cafeteria program, less than H-C officials had hoped for. She pointed out that amount would have been offset in large part by costs for a district employee who would still be needed to oversee such aspects of the food service program as free and reduced-price lunches.

The net profit, she indicated, was not enough to justify outsourcing the program.

“Had it been $50,000, it would have been more palatable,” Smith said.

Beverly Gardner, the district's recently retired business manager, has reported that for the past school year the in-house-managed cafeteria program showed an unaudited profit of more than $7,000. That compares favorably to losses in several previous years that ran into five figures annually.

The turnaround has been attributed to a decision not to replace some cafeteria workers who have retired in addition to raising school meal prices and promoting sales of a la carte food items.

District Superintendent Charles Koren noted those factors at last week's meeting. He added, “We still as a board need to monitor the cafeteria and the operations closely so issues of the past do not continue to occur.”

In other business, the school board hired Gregory K. Cessna to succeed Gardner as business manager, effective Oct. 8 at a starting salary of $82,000.

Currently business manager for the Indiana County Technology Center, Cessna has audited school districts in his previous work as a certified public accountant.

Meanwhile, Gardner is continuing as a consultant for the district during the transition in the position. She was approved for a rate of $40 per hour, retroactive to Sept. 10.

Also retiring is high school office worker Linda Baran, effective Nov. 16.

In other personnel matters, the board approved Joshua Kapcoe as a temporary professional employee and Deborah Bem as an instructional aide. Bem will receive $7.90 per hour plus a fringe benefit package.

Approved as four-hour cleaners were Danielle Kishlock, Cheryl Groves and Wayne Shields. Shields will work year round while the others will work on a nine-month schedule. All will be paid $8.78 per hour, receiving 90 percent of that pay during an initial 60-day probationary period.

Susan McLoughlin will take on the supplementary role of game manager for the 2012-13 school year, at a rate of $918.

The board approved several field trips for district students but withheld judgment on the annual high school academic luncheon, which is tentatively slated for Nov. 7 at the Penn Run Christian Outreach Center. Board members expressed concern about how the trip would be funded.

Instructor Lisa Adams, who is organizing the luncheon, said the cost per meal for 150 students has increased from $14 to $15.

Choral students were approved for several trips including a performance prior to a concert by Pittsburgh musician B.E. Taylor Dec. 15 at Indiana's Kovalchick Complex. The district will pay to transport the students.

Homer-Center approved a 2012-2013 professional services agreement with Catapult Learning, LLC, which provides remedial reading services for students who need extra help. The cost to the district will be $1,293.

The board recognized Maggie McLoughlin, the Kiwanis Senior of the Month for September, and the 2012 Homecoming Court: McLoughlin, Alexa Baum, Sydney Black, Carly Leysock, Kristen Morrow, Jaime Rura and Anne Schmidt.

Homecoming festivities will occur in conjunction with the Oct. 12 Wildcats football game against Conemaugh Township. Also, members of the 1962 football team at Laura Lamar High School — the former name for the local school — will be honored that night.

Looking ahead, the high school musical, The Pajama Game, will be staged at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 and 17. Tickets cost $7 for adults and $5 for students.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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