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School food program, community engagement draw board scrutiny

News editor

USD 410 school board members engaged in a lively, free-ranging discussion of proposed goals Monday, with the cost of the district’s food program and community engagement vying for the most attention.

Many districts “operate in the black” with their food services, Superintendent Steve Noble said, but USD 410 spends about $50,000 more than it receives in government reimbursement.

Noble attributed the deficit to wages and benefits for staff that other districts control by limiting employee hours or contracting for food service from an outside vendor. He said food cost is higher because the district doesn’t utilize as many pre-packaged meals as others.

“Our food service staff still makes many, not all, but many home-cooked meals,” Noble said. “We still bake bread two or three times a week ourselves. We don’t buy rolls, we bake them. We think the food is better quality, we think it’s more nutritious, and it costs money to do all that. I’m not advocating we change that.”

Board member Joe Sechrist came back to the issue when Noble asked for feedback on proposed goals.

“What needs to be done to get the food service to operate in the black?” Sechrist asked.

Noble responded with options that included using more pre-packaged meals, earning more reimbursement by serving more meals, purchasing food more cheaply through a consortium, and using an outside vendor. Board member Jim Paulus asked what Noble would recommend.

“I don’t like third-party,” Noble said. “I would consider some less expensive meals.”

Board member Rod Koons noted that the cost issue had been debated before.

“We’ve talked about it for a long time, but we’ve never done anything about it,” he said. “We woudn’t have this problem if we didn’t have declining enrollment so bad.”

Koons put the deficit in a different perspective.

“Fifty grand is 50 grand, and that’s a teacher’s salary,” he said. “Every business has to decide its identity. How do we either do this better or decide not to do it so we can concentrate on the things we know we can do well?”

Noble continued reviewing 30 proposed goals that were developed by district faculty and staff as an outgrowth of an independent evaluation of the district conducted last year. When he was finished, Koons offered an observation.

“The one phrase, term, word I missed in the whole thing is community,” he said. “Where does our community become a part of this? Where does the community become a stakeholder?”

Noble paused, then answered.

“It’s not in there in black and white, you’re right,” he said. “It’s all about us.”

Koons referred to an earlier statement by high school principal Clint Corby.

“I really appreciate what Mr. Corby said about there being 2.8 million engineering jobs available, but I’ll guarantee you they’re not in Marion County,” he said. “They’re definitely not in 67063.”

Noble and Koons exchanged comments on the lack of a skilled labor pool in the county before future superintendent Max Heinrichs joined the conversation.

“We’ve prepared our students for four-year educations for a long time,” he said. “There’s so many great technical jobs out there.”

That led to a discussion of various alternative degrees and apprentice and internship programs that would create partnerships with the community. Board president Mark Rooker said engaging with local businesses could help to promote economic development.

“The thing that’s unique about Hillsboro is that we’re not too small to do that,” Noble said. “We have these things right here where kids don’t have to travel far for these real-life experiences.”

Noble also observed that the goals neglected to mention anything about visual or performing arts. He said he would work with the board’s feedback to revise the goals for consideration at the next meeting.

In other business:

  • High school social studies teacher Stuart Holmes submitted his resignation to accept a superintendent/principal position with USD 200 Greeley County. Rita Loewen will retire as elementary art and music teacher.
  • Devin Metzinger was hired as high school math teacher and head football coach, and Susie Kliewer was hired as Parents as Teachers coordinator.
  • Corby, Julie Linnens, and Lenna Knoll reported on a recent trip to Indianapolis for a Project Lead the Way national conference.

Last modified April 14, 2016

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