FARMINGTON — Food Service Director Andrew Hutchins told Regional School Unit 9 directors Tuesday that the department had a healthy balance for 2018-19.

He said the school meals program has improved over the past few years for several reasons, including a plan to increase lunch prices over five years and negotiating better rates with food service providers. “The need to increase prices is a reflection of minimum wage increases,” Hutchins said. “When the new law passed we did an analysis and saw that our pay scale was below average and needed to be bumped up regardless.

Since joining RSU 9 three years ago Hutchins has prioritized menu variety. There are new meals, and second choice options now available in the elementary schools. He also works closely with distributors to match menu choices with purchases to get better pricing.

Hutchins has also seen success in collecting unpaid account balances for school meals, utilizing grants from Otis Federal Credit Union, Gifford’s Ice Cream, and Bangor Savings Bank. These grants have made it possible for the district to work with families struggling to stay current. For example, if a family will pay half of its balance within a certain time, grant funds can be tapped to match the other half.

Other grants have come from organizations like Full Plates Full Potential, a Portland-based group that has helped fund RSU 9’s summer meals program. Funds for food service employee training have come from Full Plates Full Potential and from the Healthy Community Coalition.

RSU9 Tuesday July 9, Food Service Director Andrew Hutchins updates board on budget. Franklin Journal photo by Nicole Carter

 

Given the $35,000 balance, Hutchins suggested that price increases be delayed for the coming school year. The board accepted his proposal, keeping high school and middle elementary school prices at $2.55 and $2.30, respectively.

Going into the 2019-2020 school year, Hutchins sees two key challenges – continued difficulties in keeping unpaid meal balances in check, and also retaining staff. “The economy is good, but that makes it more difficult to fill vacancies,” he said.

In other business, Chairwoman Cherieann Harrison and Vice Chairman Irv Faunce, both of Wilton, were unanimously re-elected to their positions for the coming academic year. Harrison said she did not anticipate much change in committee assignments, but encouraged board members to let her know within the next day or so if they had a specific interest in serving on the Operations, Personnel and Finance, or the Education Policy committees or adjust their current roles.

Superintendent Tina Meserve noted that anyone serving on the Personnel and Finance Committee would need to take part in contract and negotiations training this month, but any board member is welcome to attend. Teacher contract negotiations will be begin in the next school year.

Meserve reported that most teacher positions have been filled, although they have had trouble securing a couple of global language instructors. She noted this has been a national trend and the district is working hard to fill those vacancies before the start of the school term.

Business Manager Kris Pottle presented reports showing the district’s balance sheets were in good shape. Pottle explained the district has a surplus for the end of 2018-19, which must be set aside until it’s audited. After the audit, the money could be used for emergencies, with voter approval.

Special Education Director John Jones talked about the progress and challenges made in the year since he joined RSU 9. Specific goals are day treatment programs and inclusionary practices to improve educational experiences for students with special needs.

In other business, the board discussed ways to keep business meetings focused without limiting public input.

Meserve said she is working on scheduling public forums for residents to offer comments and concerns.


Comments are not available on this story.