School Committee: 15 February 2017

DSC_0442School Committee Meeting 15 February 2017

6 present, SC Descoteaux absent, Student representative: Onoste Omoyeni

Mr. Gignac requests taking Eagle Scout Michael Wojas’ report on textile recycling out of order.

Permissions to Enter

Usually the Permissions to Enter are not all that controversial.  Not tonight. The inclusion of a request for $4,921,313 for Aramark (1 year contract extension) generated about 45 minutes of discussion (my comments follow).

$4,981,113 in expenses ($4,921,313 allocated to Aramark in order to exercise a 1-year option for food service management in 2017-18), See detail in the Meeting Packet (downloadable PDF)

SC Gignac speaks to some issues he noticed during a recent visit to a satellite school (in food-service lingo, that would be a school where there is no kitchen. The lunches are prepared at another site (the Rogers) and transported.). SC Gignac noted the unappetizing appearance of the food, noting that the hot meal he observed was unidentifiable, and the marginally acceptable freshness. The director of the school shared he/she had to sort through a bin of fresh food (fruit, I believe) and remove rotten food. Mr. Gignac noted that the serving size (the school serves middle- and high-school age youth) was small, the presentation was unappetizing and the quality not acceptable. He notes that some schools with kitchen have experienced similar issues with food service in the past and expresses discomfort in awaarding a 1-year contract extension to Aramark.

The Aramark representative (name not given) cites some possible transportation issues that resulted in the food quality; however, the portion sizes provided are regulated by USDA and Aramark adheres to those portion regulations.

SC Gignac questions why satellite schools do not have more than one food choice. Aramark representative states there are some choices (hot meal, salad, and sandwich choice). Both SC Gignac and SC Hoey who were making a visit noted that on this visit a salad and “hot meal” were offered, but not the sandwich option which should have offered.  Both SC members note that school lunch is especially important to students in this setting as the in-school meal is possibly the only meal the students access. SC Gignac repeats that he would like to see an improvement prior to awarding an extension. SC Hoey notes that the quality of food at the alternative school (LeBlanc) was poor; the food quality was unacceptable and needs to be improved.  SC Gignac photographed the food he observed during his school visit and shared that image with other school committee members.

SC Doherty proposes a motion like to take the Aramark expenditure out of Permissions to Enter.

The unnamed Aramark representative mentions that the Lowell management group is working with Worcester’s operation to learn if there are improvements that can be initiated in Lowell.  Mayor Kennedy asks for explanation as to why a sandwich choice would have be missing from a day’s delivery (snow days, delivery issues, food choice not ordered).  If I understood this conversation correctly, there was an assertion that the school clerk at times makes lunch selection decisions (see my comments following). 

A second Aramark representative, Sharon Lagasse, visited Worcester’s satellite program and explains that the hope is to learn some techniques for efficiency that could be implemented in Lowell to improve satellite school food service.

SC Gignac asks for permission for LeBlanc Social Worker to speak to the concerns from the school’s perspective (older students need more food/larger portion, noticing the difference in portion sizes and options offered at LHS (where some of the students at this school originate) causes students to feel that they don’t deserve equitably food service quality, and sometimes lunch offering is a motivation for students to attend school).

Dr. Khelfaoui asserts that delaying the line item approval is a bad idea. He expresses disappointment that he is hearing about the meal issues for the first time at this school committee meeting. States that he will issue a directive about the procedure for lunch choice will be in place as of tomorrow and feels this is a communication issue, not a food quality issue.

SC Gendron asks if delaying this line item from tonight’s Permissions until next meeting would have any ill-effects. Mr. Frisch feels he can give a report of what corrections can be or have been be implemented by the next meeting and the line item can be re-entered.  Ms. Omoyeni speaks in favor of SC Doherty’s motion – not a punitive process but an investigative process. Roll call 6 yeas, 1 absent, approved.

Some years ago, there was an effort to provide students with more than one choice for lunch: a hot choice, a salad, and a sandwich. To manage food preparations, students at the elementary school where I taught (which did have a kitchen), made their lunch choice of lunch from the menu when they arrived in the morning. Those lunch counts were sent to the school clerk in the morning and forwarded to the kitchen staff.  In a satellite school, I’d imagine that a similar process takes place with the count of how many lunches of each category sent to the central kitchen by the school’s clerk. The policy at the time in the school in which I worked was that students who arrived tardy, were served the hot lunch choice by default. I wonder if the reference to a clerk “making lunch choices” might be confused with the clerk transmitting lunch counts and, if a student arrived tardy, the sandwich/salad choices were not available for practicality. 

School lunch, as some Committee Members noted, can sometimes be the only real meal a student eats during a day – that is a sad fact for some students living below the poverty line. Lunches that are unappealing and fresh foods that have gone beyond expiration should never be served no matter what. Pressing the pause button before engaging an extension of a food contract, even a one-year contract, not only sends the message that the School Committee cares about the quality of meals served to our students, but lets a very large corporate contractor know that the expectation for quality and healthy food service is a priority. As Ms. Omoyeni noted, this pause is not punitive, it is informative.

SC Martin does not participate in the CTI line item for permission to enter ($9,000). 5 yeas, 2 absent, approved.

All other permissions were approved (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved).


Three motions made, all by SC Doherty.

  • 6.I. [J Doherty]: Request the City Manager to provide the Committee with a report that details the City’s Maintenance of Effort Agreement for the last 3 years related to expenditures on the schools. (Typographical error; correction underlined).

Maintenance of Effort funding is sizeable and SC Doherty would like to examine how these services a provided to the schools. SC Hoey supports the motion and thinks the information should have been made available and transparent 25 years ago. Mayor Kennedy thinks it is worthwhile to go through the Maintenance of Effort jointly between Schools and City administrations. Passed.

The Maintenance of Effort amounts confuse me; I understand that some services are provided to the school department by the city (data processing, snow removal as examples). Making these expenditures transparent hopefully will improve understanding of costs and funding between the school department and the city. 

  • 6.II. [J Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a report of the transportation cost estimates of bussing students to a high school at Cawley over the next 12 years based on the number of students by neighborhood currently attending our schools.

SC Doherty would like this information as the Lowell High School project costs are calculated and how those costs might impact future budgeting.

  • 6.III. [J Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with a report that looks at our K-12 student population by zip code to determine the number of students from each neighborhood.

In addition to this information, SC Gignac asks about the status for zoning of schools. Ms. Durkin notes that the location of a STEM middle school may impact such a report. SC Gendron asks about neighborhood zoning (moving from city-wide to neighborhood bus scenarios); Ms. Durkin can include this; however, the desegregation plan either has to be vacated or adhered to and this will have an impact on creating city-wide busing. The creation of City-wide schools was a result of the desegregation plan and ensure that equity is achieved. SC Martin notes the profound impact of vacating a desegregation order (she would not be opposed to such a move if it negates the primacy of every child attending a desegregated school in Lowell). Passed

Reports of the Superintendent

There were 8 items under Reports of the Superintendent.

  • 7.I Knowledge Bowl Schedule (see packet for dates and competition details)
  • 7.II Lowell High School Graduation Date & Speaker Announcement (see packet for information)
  • 7.III. Response To Robert Gignac’s Motion Of 01/18/17 Regarding Extracurricular Activities Throughout The District

SC Gignac requests the addition of how many student participate.

  • 7.IV. Response To Jacqueline Doherty’s Motion Of 01/18/17 Regarding The Time Allocated For Recess, Lunch, Physical Education, And Health

Registered speaker (Darcie Boyer) member of City-wide Parent Council and LEJA. Thanks the administration for report but notes the disparity of times across the schools. The CPC will examine this issue in more detail at their next meeting. Notes the importance of lunch/nourishment and free time to student well-being.

So many studies remind and inform us that in order to be ready for of learning and retain learning, students need a balance of “down time” – play and academic time. Students of all ages need to be active, to expend excess energy,  to socialize, to have a brain break. So with all this information on the importance of social and emotional health, why do schools continue to shave away recess time? Why are 6 and 7 year olds asked to sit still and work their brains without a break?

As the academic demands have increased on students, the response has generally been to increase “time on task” to the point that young learners are expected to sit still far beyond what they are developmentally capable of doing. Here’s a link from Harvard Medical School  as an example of why it is so important to give students down time, but don’t stop with just one opinion.

 Fifteen minutes of recess (which oftentimes includes getting ready to go outside and walking to the play area); 20 minutes (or less) to walk to the cafeteria, go through a lunch line, and eat – none of this is adequate for student well-being.

SC Doherty thanks administration for the information; notes 10-minute recess, 15-minute lunches do not include transport.  Makes a motion to refer report jointly to Curriculum and Student Services subcommittees to find some way to return to other aspects now that NCLB has been replaced by ESSA. SC Martin would like some additional information about the disparity of times between urban and suburban districts. Passed.

  • 7.V. Monthly Budget Report
  • 7.VI and 7.VII School Calendar and School Committee Meeting Dates for 2017-18
  • 7.VIII. Personnel Report

All superintendent’s reports 7.I through 7.V passed. 7.VI approved by roll call (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved). 7.VII (first reading – no action). 7.VIII approved.

New Business:

Educational Research request approved (6 yeas, 1 absent, approved)

(Taken out of order): Michael Wojas, a LHS 2016 graduate, gives an update on his Eagle Scout project, a textile recycling effort which was a collaboration with Lowell’s Solid Waste and Recycling as well as Bay State Textiles. Mr. Wojas who is enlisting in the Navy at the end of February, has designed a project to recycle effort. The monies raised through the recycling project results in some fundraising based on the amount of textiles collected and recycled. Currently, recycling boxes are sited at 15 Lowell schools, with the hope that middle schools will become involved in the near future. To date just under 2,000 pounds of textiles resulting in rebates of $7,731 which then go to support the schools. The Lincoln School, Morey School and Reilly School have been the top collectors of textiles. The bin upkeep is maintained by Bay State Textiles at no cost to the City.

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.

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