Union schools choose new food provider

UNION, NJ — Students in township schools will see new food options in the fall after the local school board approved a new service provider in a unanimous vote at its May 21 meeting.
Pomptonian Food Services, located in Fairfield, was one of the four bidders to submit proposals, beating out and replacing the district’s current food provider, Aramark.

The board approved the contract with Pomptonian for one year, but has the option to extend it up to four years, business administrator Gregory Brennan said at the meeting.
Aramark has had the food contract for almost half a century and, according to survey results from both the provider and the district, many students were not satisfied with the quality of their offerings.

An Aramark questionnaire that surveyed parents in the fall asked: “Why doesn’t your child eat school lunch?”
Parents had the ability to choose more than one response and 59 percent said the food doesn’t taste good, with 56 percent also answering that their children told them they did not like the food.

In addition, 34 percent of parents said they didn’t believe school meals made their children healthier and 30 percent didn’t agree that school meals set an example for healthy eating.

In a district-conducted survey, almost 150 students out of more than 650 questioned this year said one of the reasons that they don’t eat the school-provided lunch is because they simply “don’t like it.” Another 130 answered that they prefer to bring their own lunch.

According to the Pomptonian website, it offers special options such as fresh pasta day and street taco day, as well as a “farm stand,” that provides students with a selection of fresh vegetables and low-fat dip daily, as well as at least three fresh fruit choices.

Jersey Fresh-certified products are offered when in season, the website states. Jersey Fresh in a program of the state Department of Agriculture that promotes and grades local produce.
Also at the May 21 meeting, numerous local school district faculty members and parents appeared to support the 91 paraprofessionals who will be contracted out for the upcoming school year.

As part of the more than $137 million school budget approved at the April 30 Board of Education meeting, paraprofessionals with six years of employment or less with the district will now be hired through a staffing service in the next school year.
There are 156 paraprofessionals in the district, and 91 will be affected by the contracting provision.
Vito Nufrio was the sole board member to vote against the budget.

Daily and long-term substitute teachers will also be hired through a subcontractor, and when the district has chosen a staffing service, current paraprofessionals will have a chance to enroll in the program, Superintendent Gregory Tatum said at the April meeting.

Lyn Cornacchia, a district paraprofessional for 15 years and a teachers union representative, addressed the BOE first, stating that the 91 affected paraprofessionals received their nontenured notices May 15.
Cornacchia asked the BOE what will happen for the new school year and whether it has decided which staffing service to utilize.

“These people gave their years of service — six years and under — to this district,” she said. They served it proudly and they worked with difficult students, difficult teachers at times but they’re here and they came back, day after day.”
“They deserve to know what they’re doing in September and who they’re working for. After all, if we leave, we have to give you proper notice and now it’s time to give them some notice,” Cornacchia added.

Washington Elementary student Andres Rojas told the board how much his paraprofessional means to him and how she helps him throughout the school day.
“I am here to save her job and help all of the other wonderful aides that help the wonderful children,” he said, adding that he has been diagnosed with ADHD.

“Miss Little knows when I am about to melt down, be sad or mad, and then she gets to me before this happens because she knows my triggers. I don’t want to lose her because she helps me with my morning work in math and I’m scared to lose her.”
Andres received a standing ovation and after his comments.

But board attorney Lester Taylor told the gallery that a grievance had been filed by the teachers union May 16, restricting what board members can say regarding the paraprofessional contracts.

“It’s pending litigation, a pending grievance, so the board cannot respond about that issue,” he said.
However, Taylor did say that the board has expressed “intent to explore doing a bid or competitive procurement process to get a private provider.”