Trustees eliminate food services director’s position

Food Services Director Dawn Whitten reviews guidelines that must be followed by a school district when administering a food program for the students. She presented those guidelines to trustees at last week's meeting.

Food Services Director Dawn Whitten reviews guidelines that must be followed by a school district when administering a food program for the students. She presented those guidelines to trustees at last week's meeting.

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When trustees approved the outsourcing of food services to Chartwells at their April 28 meeting, they were informed that a full-time director would not be needed.

After listening to concerns about outsourcing food services at their recent school board meeting last week, trustees decided to go forward and unanimously eliminated the director’s position.

Trustee Rich Gent voiced concern wondering if Chartwells would be placing more responsibilities on the staff, especially on Phyllys Dowd, director of Business Services.

Chartwells regional director Robert Schrenk said record keeping and ordering should not take time away from district personnel since his firm handles all the invoices. He said many of Chartwells’ contracts with school districts show 20-30 hours are saved in a two-week period.

Superintendent Dr. Sandra Sheldon said a clerical employee responsible for the record keeping would four hours a day and be employed by the school district. Trustee Ron Evans asked if Elko and Humboldt school districts have an employee handling the invoices and other tasks, and Schrenk affirmed his question.

“Yes, we have a district person as a liaison,” Schrenk said.

Koenig then made a motion to eliminate the food service director position that is currently held by Dawn Whitten.

During discussion, Kelli Kelly, a professional chef in Fallon, disagreed with the school district’s action.

“Believing the food service position is redundant is not the case,” she said. “Their chef may not have experience working in an education setting.”

She said if trustees approve the cut, they will set the school district back 20 years with its food service program and the district will also face repercussions.

Kelly had sent a letter to all trustees in late April outlining her opposition to the action.

“In 2013, I teamed with the director of Federal Programs (Sue Chambers) and Director of Food Services (Dawn Whitten) to write a grant application for the USDA Farm-to-School Program,” she said, reading parts from her sent letter. “The scope of the project involved three components: 1), a bridge between Churchill County School District and local farms that would enable local produce in school cafeterias, 2), to introduce food knowledge and nutrition into classroom curriculum, and 3), the development of a district garden.”

Kelly said she has been a part of the Churchill County High School Career and Technical Education (CTE) Advisory Committee representing Culinary Arts, helped establish the inaugural CCHS employability fair and addressed the Churchill Economic Development Association about the CTE programs at Churchill County High School.

“The evaluation process for the proposals submitted by Chartwells and ARAMARK for food services to the school district operated under a significant time crunch,” Kelly said in her letter. “Understandably, a decision had to be made in a timely manner and there were set time lines in order to enable the decision. The public announcement of the proposals happened on Monday, April 11. I received copies of the proposals on Wednesday morning and dedicated about 15 hours towards assessment.”

Furthermore, Kelly felt the school district was moving too quickly.

“At the outset of the evaluation committee meeting, it became readily evident that the amount of time allotted for comparing notes and impressions from both proposals was dreadfully insufficient. Additionally, of the four panel members, only two of us in the room appeared adequately prepared. One member of the panel admitted that he had only briefly scanned the proposals, had not received a scoring rubric, and had no idea about the scope of food service in the district. It was disheartening to witness the lack of preparation from panel members charged with making a recommendation to the board when such an important decision needed to be made.”

Kelly said the state mandated the director of Business Services, Phyllis Dowd, to fulfill certain responsibilities including checking the references provided by both proposals. Kelly said she did not believe Dowd took reasonable steps although Dowd was in contact with Chartwells numerous times.

“The only conversation she had regarding ARAMARK was with an individual who was not included as a reference in the proposal,” Kelly wrote in her letter. “This made a thorough evaluation of references impossible.”

Whitten addressed trustees and said she had concerns about the program and if guidelines were not followed.

She then distributed a memorandum from the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Division outlining responsibilities for administering and supervising a food program for it to be in compliance with both state and federal law.

The food service director told the LVN on Thursday she has strong feelings about the program she has directed for 15 years. Whitten said outsourcing food services is a national trend, and she was aware the school district was looking at outsourcing its food service program earlier in the year.

According to Whitten, she tried to give information to the district about outsourcing th program, but she said the district wasn’t interested.

“It’s always up to them to make a decision,” she said.

Although Whitten said she hasn’t heard of problems with the three Nevada counties using Chartwells, she hopes nothing happens if the local school district fails to meet compliance, or something occurs where children don’t have any more access to meals.

Despite the outsourcing and loss of her position, Whitten said she has no ill will against the district, but she also said the district has not offered her another position.

Schrenk told trustees his company is partnered with 600 school districts across the country and has met federal requirements.

“If we are not in compliance, you would be able to terminate us,” he told trustees.

Board President Clay Hendix said he and the board take their responsibilities seriously especially when personnel decision must be made, He said the district is “in a tough spot” to balance its budget. He said trustees worked out the best balance, but they also realize some decisions affect a person’s life.

Catrina Peters, School Nutrition Services manager for the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said her agency has not received reports of problems with outsourcing food services.

“We provide guidance and support on complying with federal regulations, but decisions about staff and implementation of food service is up to Churchill County School District,” she emailed the LVN. “Food service is challenging for a lot of reasons, and previous reviews of districts using a food service management company have identified some successes and some challenges. School districts are allowed to outsource to a food service management company, but need to exercise caution to not outsource the accountability to federal regulations.

Peters said her team works closely with school districts during administrative reviews to help resolve any areas that are noncompliant.


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