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By Dan Rudy 

Faculty contracts on hold; lunch contract will not be renewed

 


A draft budget was passed by the Wrangell School Board at its Monday evening meeting, but contract renewal for four non-tenured faculty members has been put on hold as administrators await news of a final budget from the State Legislature.

Speaking up at the meeting in favor of prompt action was Jack Carney, a non-tenured teacher at Wrangell High School until the year's end and the school's activities director. He was critical of the school district's timing in renewing contracts so late in the year.

“The job fairs are over. It's now the middle of May and four of your non-tenured teachers are still waiting to see if they have a job next year," he told the board. “If you are not going to give any non-tenured teachers a contract, they should have been told a long time ago, ideally before the job fair season. Job fairs are the best places that give teachers a decent chance to secure a job.”

The school district has until May 22 to approve faculty contracts, and the board decided to postpone its decision. The hiring of candidate Kendall Benson as secondary schools principal was also put on hold, for the same reason.

The board will settle personnel matters at a special meeting on May 19, whether a final state budget has been approved or not. The meeting will be held in room 101 of Evergreen Elementary School at 7:30 p.m.

School board members also voted not to renew the cafeteria service contract with NANA Development Corporation for next year. In light of a Friday deadline to come to a decision, the board opted to take action, pursuant to discussing other options.

Under the current contract, base costs are determined on a per-lunch basis. Costs for next year were projected to rise by 3.2 percent under the contract, costing the school district around $249,000, half of which is covered by federal meal program funds.

More than 100 students at all three Wrangell schools make regular use of the program, though numbers have been declining and food waste was raised as an issue at the April 27 meeting.

Dropping the NANA-provided program would save the district an estimated $70,000, and a proposed alternative plan would use two or three part-time staff to serve more basic meal options. Costs under this option have been estimated at $37,789 a year for food and $57,914 for staff.

Existing school employees would likely fill the part-time roles, dedicating two hours a day for food preparation in addition to their other duties. Other options—seeking volunteers or using the culinary arts class to help fix meals—were also discussed.

“It's just brainstorming at this point,” WPS business administrator Pam Roope explained. “We'd try to keep it real simple.”

Head cook Kim Wickman said the proposed plan was unrealistic. “We work quickly; we are efficient,” she said of her staff. Even with the simplest of foods, she said safe preparation and service would take more than two hours.

Board member Aleisha Mollen also expressed concern that a limited menu could have an effect on children with food allergies. Fellow member Tammy Groshong wondered if cutting meal service to the middle and high schools might be an option to consider. And though the NANA contract will not be renewed, the board made it clear that rebidding remains an option.

Wickman said a group discussion between kitchen staff and the board would be needed to solve the problem. A workshop was scheduled for May 19 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss options for the school meal program's future.

“We need to communicate,” Wickman said. “It's going to take a group effort.”

On the topic of communication, several parents and faculty came forward with concerns that the school board and administration were not receptive to public or even internal input.

“This year, it's been a major issue,” said Bob Davis, a language arts teacher. He said that some staff were afraid to come forward with issues and that the circulation of information had worsened due to several factors, such as the board's policy toward handling concerns.

Cindy Martin questioned the board's staff evaluation practices and wanted to know whether the input of students and faculty was considered when drawing up the review for outgoing secondary principal Colter Barnes.

Board chair Susan Eagle declined to comment during the meeting but said she would reply to Martin and other commenters afterward.

The board recused itself into a lengthy executive session to discuss an issue of personnel before the close of the meeting, but no action was taken.

 

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