By NOREEN HYSLOP
BERNIE, Mo. -- Bernie Schools may be joining the ranks of Dexter, Puxico and Advance school districts with a decision during this week's regular monthly board meeting to consider contracting with a food service management company (FSMC) in the future.
Bernie, should they decide to go with an outside company, would be the fourth of the seven Stoddard County schools to do so. Bell City, Richland, and Bloomfield currently operate with their own staff and lunch program. All three schools in the county who use an outside food company have contracted with Opaa!! Food Management, Inc.
Board members discussed the pros and cons of using an outside source Monday night and in the end tabled the decision, granting board members to give the option further thought.
The consideration to change comes with the implementation of the Healthy-Hungry Free Kids Act this year that dramatically changed the requirements for meals served at schools. Like many other school districts across Missouri, Bernie has learned that considerable time and effort are required to develop and analyze menus that comply with the new regulations.
Weighing the benefits and deficits of using an outside source for meals, it was pointed out that a FSMC would meet the newly implemented national guidelines for breakfast and lunch menus.
There would be a greater number of menu choices since such a program plans for many other schools on a daily basis, and training for kitchen personnel would be provided by the FSMC.
Using an outside management company, a food service district would receive ongoing training with monthly meetings that would be the responsibility of the FSMC.
Also on the plus side when considering going to an outside program is the fact that the company would carry total responsibility for hiring of future food service staff members.
"The current staff would retain their jobs," explained Supt. Doug Ruck. "And the option to remain school employees or become food management employees is at the discretion of the district itself."
If the district allows the option, employees may choose which best suits them.
The FSMC would also be responsible for hiring substitute kitchen help and for managing work comp issues, which represents a significant benefit to the local district.
While the district would still have control of school meal price setting, equipment, and basically control of the kitchen, the FSMC would assume the managerial duties of the kitchen.
On the downside, the food service district would not have an option to retain employment by the district. He or she would become an employee of the management company.
Depending on the individual kitchen employees, becoming part of the outside company's staff might be beneficial. For those kitchen employees who have several years vested with the local district, their retirement contributions would cease once they leave the district's employment. On the other hand, however, employees going to the outside company would be eligible for unemployment in the summer -- an option they currently do not have, and they may choose to participate in a 401K plan which the school system does not offer.
The Bernie district would be mandated to pay an increased amount of unemployment for the first year the program would be implemented, but past the initial year, the management company would be charged with that payment.
Bernie has looked at the option of utilizing an outside source in the past, but always for financial reasons.
"At the current time," explained Ruck, "that isn't the reason for considering the change. If we do not contract with a food service management company we would need to investigate extensive training for our food service district in order to develop a program that meets the federal guidelines, and we would probably need to hire an additional person to allow the food service director time to get that done while food needs to be prepared and students need to be served."
In other business, Bernie's Board of Education:
* announced the filing dates for election to the board to be Dec. 11, 2012 through Jan. 15, 2013. Parties interested in filing may do so in the Central Office of the campus during regular business hours. Anyone interested in filing during the Christmas break may do so by contacting Becky Freed at 573-293-4255.
* reviewed 2012 MAP testing results with Elementary Principal Tommie Ellenburg.
* approved program evaluations on Assessment, Health Services and Curriculum.
* agreed on Dec. 10 as the next meeting date for the board.