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Van-Far R-I School District fighting food costs

Posted on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 8:19 am

The Van-Far R-I School District finished the school year at about $19,000 in the hole for school lunches due to collection problems and cheap pricing.
The board voted unanimously to raise school lunch prices by .30 cents at its July 19 meeting. Van-Far currently charges $1 for breakfast, $1.40 for K-6 lunches and $1.60 for grades 7-12 with $2 being charged for adults. The increase will still keep Van-Far lunches comparatively lower than area districts, as it has been in the past.
The Van-Far School District spent a total of $320,383.24 and received $301,272.78 in payments for school food lunches.
Superintendent Chris Felmlee said he hopes to break even on the bill with the increase — not make a large profit.
“Twenty-thousand dollars is a couple series of textbooks,” Board Member Pete Nasir said.
The .30 cent increase would remove more than $17 thousand from the deficit, nearing the $19 thousand red zone. Milk and juice prices were also raised to .35 cents a piece.
Board member Larry Wheeler said the increases could limit more students’ ability to purchase a meal. Van-Far serves about 53 percent of its total lunches for free or at a reduce rate.
Other members of the board rebutted in saying that students who have problems paying will still be fed, a goal being to avoid students “brown bagging it” — which may be more expensive overall — or go without eating altogether.
Board Member Greg Frost said new federal nutrition guidelines will make for increased food prices for school districts but provide K-6 students with increased food portions in the form of fruits. Those same nutrition guidelines would limit the intake of calories for high school students, in effect limiting lunch portions.
Overall, the district finished the school year $137,000 in the hole, according to board meeting minutes.
Other Actions
A unanimous vote approved the 2011-12 food service report. On average, daily lunches served last year were 495 with 216 lunches served for free and 55 served at reduced rates. Van-Far served the remaining 223 lunches at full price. Van-Far served 61 breakfasts at full price, 130 free breakfasts, and 23 at reduced rates.
Compared to the 2010-11 school year, Van-Far lost 11 full-price lunch purchases and four free lunch giveaways. Reduced-priced lunches increased by six.
The board voted 7 to 0 approving an adult education and literacy grant renewal.
Van-Far renewed the funding from a federal adult education and literacy grant and Missouri’s general revenue to provide education, literacy and English as a second language instruction to area residents enrolled in the Missouri Education and Literacy Program. For the fiscal year 2013, the program totals $278,205 in funding.
The board voted to waive the first and second reading policy and unanimously approved a new ranking system for class valedictorian and salutatorian honors.
Previously, students with the highest grade point average at the end of eight semesters would receive the designation. Now, students with the highest GPA at the end of 15 quarters will take the roles. The difference between the two is one-quarter of a semester. But if a candidate breaks school policy during the final quarter of the semester, the student will become ineligible.
All board members consented  Roth Environmental Consultants to perform its yearly abatement of asbestos within the district.
A final unanimous vote approved the district-wide evaluation  schedule spanning August 2012 to June 2013.
The schedule maintains a monthly time line for school programs to report to the board for evaluation.
Principal/Superintendents Reports
Summer maintenance is progressing as planned. Darrell DeMoss, construction manager from Schneider Electric, reported the progress at the meeting.
Workers scrapped old boilers for additional revenue to the district. New boilers will soon be in place and operational, according to board meeting minutes.
Construction of a new roof has started over the elementary school’s gym, and a completed roof over the building is expected by the second week of August without disrupting classes.
Tuck-pointing is underway. Work continues on replacing bricks and lost mortar between bricks at both the elementary and high school with some work carrying into the start of the school year. Brick has been matched and ordered for the high school building.  The lentils were damaged during power washing of the building, but that will not be a cost to the District. Cost will be covered by Schneider Electric.
Superintendent Felmlee said about $5,000 was budgeted to possibly install independent, ductless A/C systems in the elementary plato room, and computer and server rooms at the high school. The ductless systems are  more efficient than window units and cheaper than stand-alone systems.
A tax-rate hearing will be held at  6:45 p.m. before the school board’s August 16 meeting. Superintendent Felmlee said he will work to maintain an operating tax of $3.20 and a debt-service tax of .80 cents for a tax total of $4, which has been the rate for the last four or more years.
Felmlee said a total of 98 reportable district-wide discipline incidences occurred.
Seventy-four of those incidents were at the high school, of which 62 resulted in ISS and 12 resulted in OSS. One incident involved a small, sharp pointed object.
At the elementary school, there were 24 incidents with 18 resulting in ISS and six resulting in OSS. No weapons were involved.
The federal budget for education is due for reauthorization in January.
A “hotly debated” item, Superintendent Felmlee said he expects federal cuts at Van-Far to be as high as 10 percent, for which he budgeted, or as low as 4 percent.
The annual district attendance rate dropped by 8.7339 for the 2011-12 school year. Dropping enrollment in the area is a trend Felmlee said he closely watches, and the decrease is not due to students dropping out, according to board meeting minutes. He stated the new Kindergarten class is large.
Van-Far gained approval for grant funding to build a greenhouse. Felmlee said the exact total cost of the greenhouse is of concern and a decision should be made within the  fiscal year after determining the true, total cost for Van-Far part of the project.
Prior to its regular meeting, the school board heard a presentation from Kelly Hopkins, the Missouri School Board Association’s Associate Executive Director, on the Fair Labor Standard Act and contracting employees.
Hopkins first explained the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees.
She said exempt employees fall under three categories: executive, like a school superintendent; administrative; and professional, such as teachers or registered nurses.
Hopkins said exempt employees are paid salary, work overtime without overtime pay or compensation — no matter how many hours are worked — and  may not be docked for leave time. Though public workers are legally docked for leave, she said.
Non-exempt employees are “everyone else,” she said. Non-exempt workers are paid an hourly wage, must record hours, and must be paid overtime and compensation — where calculating an hourly wage becomes most important.
A 40-hour, 7-day work week constitutes a regular pay period, she said.
She explained to the board that a 15-minute break and paying double time for holidays are not requirements despite “myths” saying otherwise. Choosing to give breaks and paying double-time for holidays are at the discretion of the employer — not a legal requirement.
Hopkins then moved to contracted work agreements. She said there are two reasons to contract an employee: for pure value of the employee, like in the case of sports players or movie stars in the private sector; or under requirement by law.
Hopkins said school teachers and administrators are required by law to be employed under contract, as these positions are susceptible to public scrutiny and influence concerning the removal of their positions.
Hopkins said the opposite of contracted employees are at-will employees, who effectively retain his or her job until being fired or quitting. She said at-will employees may not be rehired each year.
Hopkins said the key difference is an at-will employees’ ability to choose work priorities.
She advised the school board not to hire employees under contract unless it’s required by law — as in the case of teachers and administrators.
“Contracts cost you money,” Hopkins said, as contracts carry due process. Hopkins added that due process costs money.
Criticism came in the form of whether at-will employees have equal representation on the job — like a contract or protection provided by teachers associations — as contracted employees.
Hopkins said grievance policies are applicable to all who are employed and any employee may join an organization.
In deciding whether to contract employees at Van-Far, “we’re going to have to fight against any demoralizing feelings,” she said.
During the presentation, Board Member Nasir questioned whether substitute teachers can rightfully apply for unemployment during the summer as at-will employees. He said this had happened in the past. Superintendant Felmlee agreed.
Hopkins said no and explained that as an at-will employee, substitute teachers not working during the summer had not been fired and had no contract guaranteeing work.
Nasir also questioned whether letters of intent qualify as contracts. Hopkins said no — unless the letter of intent is signed by the employer and employee, in which case it would be considered a contract.
Pete Nasir reported that new teacher evaluations will be more continuous than previous evaluations, according to board meeting minutes.
Nasir also noted the district ended the 2011-2012 school year with a deficit of only $137,000 and that after doing the lighting project. He felt it was significant.
Crystal Sparks announced that she registered everyone for the MSBA conference. During its monthly video, the MSBA called for a reinvention of the “No Child Left Behind Act.”
The board decided unanimously to hire Lisa Witek as the 2012-13 music teacher, pep band, music sponsor, and freshman sponsor. Brad Heckman, of Montgomery County R-II, was originally offered a contract for the position but he did not officially accept the offer.