Parents Say They Support School Committee, Administration's Handling of Tough Times
Parents said they feel the school committee and administration are making strides toward correcting woes at the school, while former cafeteria staff continued the push to oust Chartwells and get their jobs back earlier this week.
Another School Committee meeting and another full house.
Tuesday night, high school students filled the seats across the back of the Juliani room at Town Hall fulfilling a U.S. History course assignment, former cafeteria workers again lobbied their case against Chartwells and parents who have attended meetings for the past several weeks again came and commented.
But this week the comments weren’t as critical as they have been in the past.
Parent Michael Kiernan, who has two children in the public schools, prefaced remarks about the business manager currently on voluntary leave with praise for the School Committee.
He thanked members for their continued support of public education and said he and his wife chose Wellesley when they moved here from New York City because of the reputation of the school system.
He then asked the committee to consider using the $86,000 in unused vacation pay owed to Business Manager Ruth Quinn Berdell to pay her salary while she’s on her current voluntary paid administrative leave.
An interim business manager has been hired to fill Berdell’s position. School Committee Chairman Suzy Littlefield has said consistently since Berdell left her position five weeks ago that there will be no comment on the circumstances or duration of the leave until circumstances change.
Kiernan also asked that the School Committee make sure that Berdell is not accruing any new vacation time while on the voluntary paid leave.
Teachers Association President Jonathan Simon said that even through a difficult time for the schools, the faculty has remained committed.
“Many in the community have expressed frustration with the school district, especially with the administration and the business office. I understand this frustration,” he said.
“But I have come (to Tuesday's meeting) to assure you that the teachers of Wellesley have not faltered in pursuing our primary business - that of providing a first class education and outstanding programs for all of our students, whether in regular education or special education spheres.”
Simon said that despite the recent challenges, “the faculty remains unwavering in our commitment to the children,” and he thanked the School Committee, Superintendent Bella T. Wong, parents and all the citizens of Wellesley for what he called an “ongoing commitment to the schools.”
Finally, Frances Campbell, former head cashier at the Middle School cafeteria, presented a petition with the names and addresses of approximately 500 people she said are “concerned, upset and disgusted,” by the privatization of the school lunch service.
Chartwells is currently halfway through a one-year contract with the town to provide food serve in the schools.
Campbell asked if the company is living up to the contract.
“Are the services that the committee was seeking when it sent out the RFP, namely more nutritionally balanced menus with fresh fruits and vegetables from local sources when possible, providing access to a professional nutritionist to offer expertise on menu selections, serving lunches on recyclable or reusable materials and composting lunch waste, being provided by the current vendor?" she said.
She said it is her understanding that “very little” is being composted or recycled out of the kitchen.
The School Committee voted to privatize the food service department last year in the aftermath of the revelation that more than $100,000 in unpaid lunch balances was outstanding and that parents were being allowed to run a credit on their lunch accounts.
“Because of the ongoing mess, two top administrators have either lost their jobs or resigned, the School Committee has been subjected to unprecedented scrutiny, and the costs to the town resulting from the Health Department’s involvement has yet to be calculated,” Campbell said.
“The undermining of the reputation of the Wellesley Public Schools can not be calculated,” she said.
Chartwells, she said, “is a failed experiment.”
Wong said as the halfway point in the Chartwells contract nears, she has met with company representatives to address several issues and that they are preparing a report that she will provide to the School Committee at meeting after the new year.