By John R. Schirmer
After months of discussion, the Nashville School Board Monday night voted to outsource the district’s food services program to Aramark.
The company was one of three firms which submitted bids on managing the program.
The district began to discuss outsourcing during the 2014-15 academic year. Requests for proposals were sought, and a committee reviewed the proposals from Aramark, Chartwells and OPAA.
Food services director Julie Smith said the committee unanimously favored Aramark’s offerings. “We thought they were more to our students’ tastes,” she said.
The Aramark bid includes a 2 percent raise on day one for food services employees. They will receive a $200 signing bonus on day 90, and the company provides a benefit package. “We wanted to make sure our personnel are taken care of,” Smith said.
Superintendent Doug Graham said Aramark guarantees that the district’s food services program will break even in year one and will make up the difference up to $50,000 if it doesn’t break even.
The program has been operating in the red, but Graham said improvements this academic year have cut the deficit. “We’re $18,000 in the red now. That’s so much better than last year. We have more students eating” in the district’s cafeterias.
Aramark’s bid includes five specific investments which the company will make in the district.
The company will spend $26,000 for “age-segmented marketing.”
Aramark promised $45,000 toward the Scrapper Cafe to be set up in the former band hall adjacent to the Nashville High School cafeteria. The cafe will be operated by the school’s business management program.
The money will go toward “counter top serving pieces,” Graham said.
Other investments include $5,500 in four digital menu boards, $4,000 in small wares and $600 for a Kaivac machine.
Aramark will provide $1,000 in annual student scholarships, $2,500 per year in Level D sponsorship of artificial turf at Scrapper Stadium, and $9,000 for a mobile grill that can be used in the district and in the community.
The company’s menu will be “age appropriate and innovative,” according to the bid. There will be expanded menu options and a staff menu.
The district’s contract with Aramark will begin July 1. The five-year contract will be evaluated year to year, Graham said. “Either side can break it after one year. We’re required by law to go through the process every five years.”
Food services will “stay our program. We will have a say in it. If Aramark decides we need equipment, it stays ours,” Smith said.
Stacy Adams of Aramark told the board that the company has “large buying power. We make [equipment] purchases, and you make monthly payments for depreciation. It’s yours at the end of five years. There’s no interest. It’s strictly depreciation value.”
Aramark is an international company, Adams said, offering chefs and dietitians to assist the district.
Meal prices likely will stay the same in 2016-17 as they are this year, Graham told.
Smith said that most food services employees “are on board with it. They had thought they’d lose their jobs. I don’t know why. They will bet a raise and benefit greatly. They’ll be paid for hours worked, and they’ll get unemployment when we’re off for school holidays and during the summer. Financially, they’ll be better off.”
Graham said that two or three employees may elect to remain with the district instead of Aramark because they are close to retirement and would be better served by staying with the state’s school retirement system.
Current employees will apply with Aramark and will be hired if they pass a background check and drug test.
Aramark will have human resources personnel on campus early in the transition to talk to employees and help when needed, Graham said.
Nationwide, Aramark provides food services to about 500 schools grades K-12. In Arkansas, the company manages programs in 11 K-12 district’s and at 7 colleges and universities, including Henderson State.
In other business during a two-hour meeting Monday night, the board accepted a bid of $149,700 to construct new seating on the visitors side at Scrapper Stadium.
The project was awarded to Stadium Pros on a recommendation from Graham.
The visitors side will include 1,088 seats in 16 rows with an 8-inch rise. Funding for the project was included last summer in the budget for the current academic year, Graham said.
Other proposals included $151,400 from R.J. Love Enterprises to construct 1,011 seats, and $70,000 from Doyle Howard Construction to use existing stands, raise them three feet, sandblast, paint and galvanize.
Graham said time is becoming a factor in order to have the stands ready for the upcoming season. “We will have to put it in writing that the work will be done by Aug. 1,” he said.
In a stadium-related note, Graham said that Coach Mike Volarvich and Athletic Director James “Bunch” Nichols have secured about $475,000 in pledges to install artificial turf at Scrapper Stadium. The projected cost is $650,000.
At the March board meeting, the amount pledged stood at $325,000.
“We will have to give a date to finalize the cost and see how much is raised to see if we’ll be moving forward,” Graham said. “To get on schedule and order materials, we’re running out of days. We may need a special board meeting to address turf and see if we want to go forward.”
Ed McCrary of Nashville, a member of Gideons International, addressed the board about distributing small copies of the New Testament to local fifth graders. “We’re not able to give them out in the Nashville School District,” he said.
“There’s a big misunderstanding about what we do. We make them available to those who want them. We place them in a box or on a desk and let students pick them up. We don’t hand them out. They make the choice. We’re not teaching or preaching,” McCrary said.
Worldwide, Gideons distributed about 88 million Bibles in more than 200 countries, McCrary said. They gave out about 180 in Nashville.
“I appreciate this school,” McCrary said. “I graduated from here. My kids graduated here, and some of my grandchildren did. Orange blood is running in me, too. To be to the point, I’d rather have Jesus as savior than what the world has to offer.”
McCrary said that if Gideons are allowed to make the New Testaments available, “We will adhere to the rules we stated here tonight.”
Graham said the district “will take your concerns under advisement.”
Junior high science teachers Carol Hendrix and Brenda Galliher told the board about the recent Invention Convention at the school. Four students accompanied them to the meeting and made presentations about their projects.
“There’s an engineering component to our science standards,” Galliher said. “Students solve everyday problems. They go through the process.”
The Invention Convention was designed to develop items which can help daily, Hendrix said.
“The kids had some great ideas. They came up with an incredible amount of stuff.”
Graham gave a preliminary review of the school report cards released last week by the Arkansas Department of Education.
Grades for Nashville campuses included high school, B; junior high, C; primary, C; and elementary, D. (See related story.)
The B is for a school performing above average, Graham said, with C’s for average and D for below average.
“We’ve already gone to work on seeing what we need to address,” Graham said. “It’s not acceptable in my eyes to be below average.”
Graham and Assistant Superintendent Joe Kell will review the grades and “see how scores are trending on all four campuses. I want Mr. Kell and the building principals to come up with strategies normally used on focus schools and see if they help us. I want to get a jump start.”
Graham said the district’s patrons will see the report card. “I’m not happy with it. Three years ago, we were getting checks because our scores were so good. Can we get it turned back around? I hope so. It is an area of concern. I’m disappointed but ready to go to work and head in the right direction.”
Following a 75-minute executive session, the board voted to re-employ the district’s certified and classified staff for 2016-17, with the exception of cafeteria works who will be employed by Aramark.
The board accepted the resignation of high school business teacher Tammie VanScyoc effective at the end of the current academic year.
Board members voted to hire James Barron as primary school custodian.
All members were present, including president Miles Mitchell, Mark Canaday, Monica Clark, David Hilliard and Randy Elliott.