School panel votes to change food vendor, switches to Aramark
BY MARGO SULLIVAN
Fewer children have signed up so far for public school this year, compared to a year ago, according to Dr. Marcia Lukon. Jamestown’s superintendent of schools reported the numbers at the School Committee’s Aug. 25 meeting.
Enrollment numbers won’t be official until the Oct. 1 head count, but the Melrose Avenue School data as of Aug. 25, put 40 youngsters in kindergarten, and 46, 59, 53 and 60 in grades one through four, respectively. A year ago, the Oct. 1 numbers showed 42 in kindergarten and 57, 50, 55 and 39 in the elementary grades.
The preliminary census at Lawn Avenue School showed 42, 57, 54 and 48 children in grades five through eight, respectively, compared to 56, 59, 48 and 46 last year.
In other business, school lunch prices will increase by 25 cents to bring the cost in line with other districts, the School Committee has decided.
When classes start next week, children at Melrose will pay 25 cents more for a meal; their new lunch price changes to $2.25. But at Lawn Avenue School, youngsters will pay $2.75 for lunch, 25 cents less than last year.
Lukon said the price change may result in more income because lunch is more popular at Melrose than at Lawn, but the real reason for the change was to make sure the prices were affordable and consistent. Lukon said there was concern that Lawn’s prices were too high for many families, while prices at Melrose may have been too low.
The School Committee also voted to change food vendors from Sodexo to Aramark. School Committee Chairwoman Catherine Kaiser and members Julia Held, Sav Rebecchi and Bruce Whitehouse voted in favor.
Saving money in the budget was one reason for the change, school officials said.
Jane Littlefield, director of fi- nance, compared the two proposals and said the cost of meals and fee structures were essentially identical. The difference came over the cap on losses.
Aramark has agreed to an $18,000 cap, giving the Jamestown schools a more favorable deal than Sodexo offered. “Our deficit this year was $27,000,” Littlefield said.
The vote was also contingent on some contract revisions. Littlefield requested minor changes spelling out “duties and responsibilities” for both Aramark and the Jamestown schools. Aramark has agreed to the changes, she said, and she has sent the company a revised contract.
The contract, which was recommended by Littlefield and Lukon, is for one year per state rules.
“The state now requires oneyear contracts,” Lukon said.
Lukon said Block Island Schools Superintendent Robert Hicks had told her that Aramark saved his school district “a considerable amount of money” in the first year.
On the teacher’s first day of school, staff will be invited to enjoy free lunch, Lukon said; vouchers are courtesy of the district’s new food service, Aramark.
The company is offering the free lunch to encourage adults to buy the cafeteria food, Lukon said. Many staff members now buy a sandwich downtown, and the hope is they will start using the food service instead.
In other business, the school committee voted to require retired teachers to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B if they want to continue receiving health benefits. The arrangement follows a new state law, which allows communities to shift the burden of health insurance from local school districts to federal government programs.
The school district previously asked retirees to enroll voluntarily. Some have done so, according to Kaiser.
In summarizing the facts prior to the vote, Kaiser said the school district is phasing out Blue Cross Blue Shield Major Medical, which will end on July 1, 2012. Jamestown will replace that coverage with Plan 65, a dental plan and a prescription rider.
Retirees will receive Medicare Plan A free, but will have to pay $115.40 each for Plan B coverage, she said.
Both retirees and their spouses, who are covered by the retirement plan, will be required to enroll, she said. People 65 or older who did not enroll in Medicare Plan B when they were first eligible must do so between Jan. 1 and March 30, 2012. The school district will pay the penalty for late enrollment, she said. The panel expects to meet with congressional representatives about a waiver regarding the penalty, Lukon said.
The younger retirees will have to enroll in Medicare when they turn 65, she said. Also, some may have to pay a higher premium if they earn more than $85,000 annually.
In other business, Lukon said she continues to review public high school options for Jamestown children. The town currently pays tuition to North Kingstown High School, but is considering other schools because the contract with the North Kingstown School Committee is expiring. Lukon has contacted Portsmouth and East Greenwich and both superintendents expressed interest and said they have the room to accommodate the Jamestown students. However, Lukon is waiting for additional information about SAT scores. She has also asked for financial proposals from North Kingstown and Narragansett.
Previously, Lukon had told the School Committee the state Department of Education has picked Jamestown to introduce a new teacher evaluation plan. She told the School Committee that the state will pay “intermediaries,” who will probably be retired teachers, to take on the time-consuming task of assessing teacher performance. The retired teachers are expected to be in the district for at least one day per week, she said. Jamestown and Warwick are the only two districts to start the Rhode Island Evaluation Plan this year, she said.