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Outsourcing café still in question

By Hye-Jung Yang
Published: April 2010

In a unanimous decision, the Newton School Committee recently passed the new FY11 budget proposed by the superintendent for the 2010-2011 school year.

As part of a continuous effort to increase efficiency and lower costs, the budget will cut $525,000 from the food service operations after officials found that the present cost of labor exceeded 75% of the program’s income.

An assessment of the food services program released in February found unsustainable levels of food and labor costs and overstaffing in Newton schools, which raised red flags.

“Newton’s deficit in the lunch program can only be eliminated by a reduction in labor costs, the report said. “[Any] revenue enhancement will be transitory at best if the main problem of labor cost¦ for school food service is not addressed.

The reports found that adjustments in the budget proportioning have the potential to yield savings between $750,000 and $829,000 in both hours and benefit costs.

Despite the fact that the new cuts will inevitably remove some cafeteria workers from their positions, the members of the school committee are confident that they have made the right decision.

“The school committee feels strongly that we have a responsibility to fix the problem that we have been studying, school committee vice chair Reenie Murphy said. “We have¦ to deliver this service in a much more cost-effective way.

School committee chair Claire Sokoloff agrees that making cuts to the food service program was a good decision.

“The school committee is committed to delivering the best possible education to students, she said. “We agree with the superintendent’s proposal to try to keep the cuts outside of the classroom to what extent possible.

So far, however, the general response among cafeteria workers and Newton residents alike has not been positive. A group of about 50 cafeteria workers holding signs that said “Save the Newton Lunch Ladies gathered in protest outside the Education Center on April 5, immediately before the voting on the proposed budget was to take place.

Cafeteria worker and Newton resident Kathy Cunningham believes that there are ways to reduce the budget other than removing cafeteria workers’ positions, including streamlining the purchase of food and serving the same meal to all students in the Newton Public Schools.
“We’ve received some comments, both pro and con, for this decision, school Sokoloff said. “But¦ the most active voice has been from the food service workers themselves.

While the budget does not directly propose the removal of some of the cafeteria staff, it is inevitable that some cuts will be made. One possibility that the school committee is considering is to move all of South’s cafeteria workers to a private management firm. According to Murphy and Sokoloff, however, the future remains unclear.

“We are in the middle of negotiations with the custodial union which represents the food service workers, Murphy said. “We need to come to an agreement between the school committee and the cafeteria workers.

Despite facing protests in its decision to cut money from the food service program, the school committee is currently dividing its energy with other major budget issues. “There’s some reorganization taking place in both special ed and the high school administration, Sokoloff said.

Newton food service workers will find out the future of their jobs in the coming months.

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