DALLAS TWP. — Mary Artsma wanted to know why 26 Dallas School District cafeteria workers lost their health and life insurance, retirement and paid days off benefits.
“We would like to know why?” the 15-year district cafeteria worker asked the Dallas School Board on Monday, Sept. 11. “We deserve an answer.”
Artsma’s concerns are related to the Dallas School District’s decision to replace an expired contract with nutrition vendor Metz Culinary Management Inc. of Dallas with Southwest Foodservice Excellence, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the 2017-18 school year.
“Why wasn’t our contract rolled over with this new company?” Artsma asked.
The food service employees are not Dallas School District employees, district Business Manager Grant Palfey said. Metz Culinary Management held the contract, he added.
Palfey said the district did advertise and receive three bids — from Southwest Foodservice Excellence, Metz Culinary Management Inc. and Nutrition Inc. Each proposal varied by about $11,000 a month, he said.
The district’s Cafeteria and Wellness Committee recommended SFE to the board. SFE’s bid was accepted on an interim basis of 90 days, expiring on Nov. 30.
“I have no problem with the new food service company — they are wonderful — but what I have a problem with is for the past 35 years the food service company that won the bid has always honored our contract,” Artsma said, asking if the contract was included in the proposal request.
Palfey assured Artsma that the “current labor rates” were included in the request for bids, but it was up to the new vendor to accept or renegotiate the food service contract with employees.
Artsma said current food service workers lost all their benefits and had to reapply for their jobs.
“These are people who have been here 35, 40 years,” Artsma said. “Myself 15.”
Monty Staggs, co-president of SFE, addressed the audience, Artsma and her colleagues at the meeting.
“We will negotiate in good faith,” Staggs said.
After the meeting, Dan Matello, co-president of SFE, said he is willing to renegotiate the contract with the food service employees, but did not want to “inherit a contract set up by the preceding company.”
Matello said SFE and the food service employees do not have a negotiation meeting scheduled yet.
“They are a great bunch of ladies,” Matello said.
In other news…
• The school board will hold an Act 34 hearing at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18 at the Dallas High School in Dallas Township to discuss plans to replace Dallas Elementary with an intermediate school to house third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.
An Act 34 hearing is a state-mandated public meeting to discuss the project cost estimation of the proposed Dallas Intermediate School, said Randy Galiotto, an architect with Alloy 5.
Galiotto gave a brief overview of what the public and school board members could expect during the hearing, which included a project description of the proposed 62,000-square-foot building and a project financing presentation by PNC Bank Finance Adviser David Payne.
The planned Dallas Intermediate School would be located on the corner of Conyngham Avenue and Hildebrandt Road, next to Wycallis Elementary School in Dallas Township.
The soccer fields currently at that location will be moved to the vicinity of the Dallas Elementary School.
The project involves a grade reconfiguration that would result in Wycallis Elementary School housing kindergarten, first and second grades. Third, fourth and fifth grades would be in the new Dallas Intermediate School.
“It is a very efficient building,” Galiotto said.
According to the preliminary construction timeline, the district wants to break ground on the nearly $23.2 million project in spring 2018 and complete the project in August 2019.
• School board members are considering a partnership to team up with Building Blocks Learning Center, a childcare facility with a location in Dallas, to offer in-house before and after care for students.
Zubeen Saeed, president and chief executive officer of Building Blocks Learning Center, said the facility currently partners with several area school districts, including Wilkes-Barre Area, to offer a similar program.
“Children can be dropped off in the morning between 6:30 and 8 a.m. and would be provided breakfast,” Saeed said.
After school, children would return to the childcare room and receive a snack as well as homework help and play time, she said.
The board and elementary principals would review the proposal, Superintendent Thomas Duffy said.
• The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 9 in the school administration building, 2000 Conyngham Ave., Dallas Township.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.