School food service manager to remain during search

Sun, 12/08/2019 - 9:00am

Cindy Kelly will be staying on as the School Food Service Manager for the Block Island School while a search continues for her successor, according to Superintendent Michael Convery.

In an interview with The Block Island Times, Convery said that Kelly has agreed to remain on the job as late as September 2020 in order to train her replacement, once one is hired. The Superintendent is working with Chartwells Schools Dining Services, the school’s contracted food service management company and the manager’s actual employer, and hopes to receive a list of candidates from them to choose from.

History suggests the search may not be easy. “We were very fortunate to get Cindy,” Convery said, adding that the school administration had had trouble finding a food service manager the last time, when long-time employee Glenn Pence retired.

Meanwhile, Convery agreed that the concerns about under-staffing and kitchen equipment Kelly cited in her resignation letter are “100 percent valid.” “We have been working on these issues,” he said, “and have had many conversations” with Kelly both before and since she submitted her resignation in September.

The superintendent confirmed that the school, not Chartwells, is responsible to provide and maintain the appliances and other kitchen equipment, from the stove to the pots and pans. “We have done some work on the grease trap” that created extra maintenance work for Kelly, Convery said, adding, “We need a new refrigerator, and we’ll get it.” (The current refrigerator was donated to the school.)

Kelly’s concern about staffing will also be addressed, Convery continued. The school will add another part-time position to the food service staff in its budget proposal for the next fiscal year, beginning in July 2020. The lunch program has been operating with one full-time manager (Kelly) and one part-time assistant, with some volunteer support.

About the volunteers, Convery said, “It’s wonderful when they come in,” but he echoed Kelly’s concern that the program should not have to rely on them to keep the program running smoothly.

Convery praised Kelly’s high standards for the quality of the food served to students, offering healthy meal choices daily and making everything from scratch. “She wants to prepare food the way it should be done,” he said.

There have been no issues with how ingredients and prepared food have been handled, Convery stressed. Kelly “has a level of concern that’s proper, and she wants to be sure she’s handing off (the lunch program) to a person who will give the job the same level of care and concern.

“It’s really sad to see her go.”

Spending freeze effects

While he is looking ahead to adding lunch program staff next year, Superintendent Convery said in the interview that the administration is working to ensure the freeze on the current year’s school budget does not affect the quality of the educational program.

“We will take a close look” at expenditures “not directly related to student instruction,” he said. For example, Convery said he will not go to a conference this year so that others can attend. He added that the School Committee members had already given up their annual stipend before the deficit became known.

Purchasing direct educational supplies for students is “front-loaded,” Convery said; “they’re all here.” And if some supplies run out later in the year, “We’ll find the money for pencils.”

As The Times has previously reported, the School Committee instituted a freeze on spending after the September 2019 financial report projected a deficit of over $132,000 for the current school year.

“A budget freeze is not uncommon” in a situation like this, Convery said. “That’s a big number for the size of the school’s budget.” The total school budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $5,242,793.

He confirmed the main causes of the deficit: increases in salaries, benefits, and employment taxes included in the teachers’ contract, finalized after the school year began; and an unanticipated out-of-district tuition. Other factors Convery cited in the interview were the cost of remedying the heating oil spill in the spring, which was not covered by insurance (that “took a big chunk of our reserve”); and hiring a replacement school social worker at a higher wage step.

The budgeting process for the 2020-2021 year has already begun. Convery said the staff will submit their budget requests to him by early December. Members of the Town Council will attend the School Committee’s next regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 17 to discuss those priorities. The School Committee usually votes on its final budget request to the town in February before forwarding it to the Town Manager by March 1, according to Convery.