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Charleroi Area has no food vendor

| Wednesday, July 23, 2003

FALLOWFIELD TOWNSHIP - Richard Hall said he could do nothing but shake his head after a tumultuous Charleroi Area School Board meeting Tuesday night.

He said it was all he really could do.

Hall, a school director, said he was "shocked" by board decisions to deny a food service contract and to award a four-year employee contract.

He said he was equally amazed at its decision to turn away a volunteer assistant coach.

What began as a calm meeting escalated into a screaming match among directors after Nutrition Inc., a West Newton-based food service company, made a presentation to the board.

Nutrition Inc. was the only bidder for the food service contract. A company official Tuesday explained its operation and said the program would operate on a deficit budget because of rising fixed costs and weather-related losses.

Nutrition Inc. Regional Vice President Ross McClintock said the company was unable to serve breakfast for 10 days last winter, and did not expect such circumstances in the future.

School director Dave Ceccone and board President Joseph Cardinale expressed concern about the deficit, saying the district was "bleeding red already."

Director Rick Bergstedt asked whether the company could serve the district's catering needs, even if it was using taxpayer money.

Ross, seemingly confused, said the company would fill all of the district's food service needs.

As Bergstedt continued to ask questions, board member Ken Wiltz spoke up, saying Bergstedt was referring to the YMCA groundbreaking - a ceremony Nutrition Inc. catered.

Wiltz is YMCA executive director.

At one point, Bergstedt stormed out of the room, saying he couldn't sit and listen to the issue.

Ceccone alleged that Wiltz did not go through the correct channels to secure Nutrition Inc. as the YMCA's food service company for the ground-breaking event.

He said the board should have been notified about the catering job because the food was prepared at Charleroi Area High School.

Wiltz said the issue was none of the board's concern, that he sought out Nutrition Inc. as he would any vendor, and that it was a private business transaction between the two organizations.

Ross said that food was prepared at the high school because it was closest to the YMCA, which is located in Carroll Township. Extra workers were brought in to prepare the food, he added.

"We did it the right way. We didn't prepare those meals without bringing in additional help," he said. "We get called upon to cater things a lot. It is not unusual to be asked by community organizations to service special events. It was totally innocent on our part."

Ceccone persisted, loudly telling Wiltz, "We should have known about it."

"If you want to take shots, take them at me, not them. Don't make them your scapegoat," Wiltz countered.

"You did something wrong," Ceccone said.

When it came to vote, Nutrition Inc. was denied the contract, 5-3. Ceccone, Bergstedt, Cardinale, Isabelle Barndollar and Ruth Varkonda opposed the motion.

Hall, Wiltz and John Rotheram voted in favor of Nutrition Inc.

Rotheram requested the board go into executive session before the vote, but received no support.

Cardinale, Ceccone and Bergstedt said their votes to deny the contract had to do solely with the projected deficit.

Ceccone said he made his decision "a long time ago."

"We keep losing money all the time," he said. "To me, $35,000 is a lot of money."

Hall and Wiltz said they doubted if that was the real reason for the dissenting votes.

"If they were going to do that, they should have expressed that concern," Hall said, adding that no one previously expressed concern over financial figures.

"At this point, any time Wiltz's name comes up you can see how the vote ends up," Hall said. "It speaks for itself. There is no other reason you wouldn't use this food service."

Wiltz agreed.

"I think it's directly related to me," he said, adding it could be difficult to find another food service company with only six weeks left before school opens.

"We didn't have a lot of people knocking down the door to bid on our cafeteria service," he said, adding that he hoped "cooler heads would prevail."

Nutrition Inc. has been Charleroi's food service provider for five years, and holds contracts with other local districts.

Meanwhile, although it was not listed on either last week's work session agenda or Tuesday night's agenda, the board entertained a motion to award a four-year contract to Ottie Caruso, the district's director of security.

Wiltz asked why the item was not on the agenda, and why the full board had not previously discussed the issue.

Cardinale contended it was discussed "in generalities and specifics," and Barndollar, who introduced the motion, said Caruso deserved the contract.

" ... I feel if the man is asking for something he is good enough to give it to him," Barndollar said.

Wiltz said it was "wrong" to vote on the motion. Rotheram requested the board discuss the issue in executive session, but again received no support.

The motion to approve the contract passed by a 5-3 margin, much to the chagrin on Rotheram.

"I don't believe in long contracts," he said. "I'm not sure that's the way to go."

Hall said the vote was another example of a board trend.

"I just shake my head. This is just unbelievable," he said. "It would be one thing if you met behind closed doors to discuss issues. That's just not what's been happening."

The final issue of contention regarded the hiring of athletic coaches for the 2003-2004 school year.

The board approved the appointment of a number of coaches and volunteer assistant coaches in a single motion.

Then, in a separate agenda item, it voted 5-3 to deny a motion to appoint Bruno Pappasergi as volunteer boys' basketball coach.

When Cardinale asked for director comments, Bergstedt spoke up, saying he would not support Pappasergi because the coach previously resigned from other positions with the athletic department.

Cardinale, Varkonda, Ceccone, Barndollar and Bergstedt cast dissenting votes.

Cardinale declined to comment on his vote against Pappasergi, saying only, "He got five people voting against him here ... There must be something about the guy."

Rotheram said he was surprised by the decision, saying a precedent was set for board involvement.

"We've let our head coaches pick the (assistant) coaches and we've never interfered before," he said.

Athletic Director Vince Vitori said that while he understands the board has the final say, he was surprised at the vote.

"I think he's qualified and able to work with us in any aspect," Vitori said.

Hall agreed, "Anyone who knows that man knows he's always there for those kids."

Barndollar said reliability was the key reason for her vote.

"Who says he won't do it again," she said, apparently referring to the fact Pappasergi has left athletic department jobs in the past.

Wiltz said there was no good reason for not hiring Pappasergi.

"I think they have their personal agendas," he said of fellow board members. "Not supporting him shows they are taking it out on Bruno."

He added that he found it odd that Pappasergi wasn't included in the motion to appoint other coaches.

"Why would you turn down volunteerism• It just doesn't make sense," he said. "People's lives change. If they have to step away for whatever reason, why should that disable them from ever being hired again• That just doesn't make sense."

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