Changes to Mount Abe food service eyed

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School board members are eyeing possible changes to the school’s food service program as a way to save more than $100,000.
The board discussed the changes briefly at a Jan. 19 meeting that drew current food service employees who urged board members to consider more than fiscal savings as they contemplate the future of the program at Mount Abe.
For the current school year, as well as next year, the school has budgeted just more than $94,000 to subsidize the school lunch program. The program pulls in funding from state and federal sources, as well as revenues from students who pay for the food, but loses money every year.
Now, though, the board is beginning a preliminary look at changing the food services system, and contracting with an outside group to provide food at the high school — a change that one vendor, which supplies the food service in both Starksboro and New Haven, said could save Mount Abe $103,000.
“It’s too much money not to look at,” said school board Chair Lanny Smith.
After looking at the school’s numbers, this vendor told administrators that it could provide equal or better food services at reduced lunch rates, eliminating the need for the $94,000 subsidy, and actually pay the high school an additional $9,000.
“We have to look everywhere across the board (for ways to save),” Smith said.
The proposed 2010-2011 budget calls for the food services to continue at the status quo for the next year, but school board members acknowledged on the 19th that they won’t be bound by that line item if they decide to make a change, and could choose to go with a different approach as early as next school year.
Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Evelyn Howard said in the meeting that, if the board decides to move forward with this sort of a change, they would solicit bids from several vendors, and could negotiate with an outside group to make sure that current employees are given first priority in hiring.
But the possibility of a change brought out several employees in the food services program, who urged school board members to approach any changes cautiously, and to make sure they do their research before signing on with an outside group.
John Teer, whose wife, Beverly, has worked for the food services program for 31 years, expressed concerns that wages would fall and an outside group would not offer health insurance.
“Do some research,” said Carol Roscoe, who has worked for Mount Abe in food service since 1984. “In all departments, you couldn’t find a more dedicated group of people … We work as a team. We’re willing to negotiate something.”
Roscoe said the food services employees had been approached by a union in the past, but declined to join because they’d always felt the board had treated them fairly.
“It would be a lesson in hard knocks to have something like this happen,” she said.
The board discussed the question of food services in more depth in executive session, though no decisions came out of that closed meeting.

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