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Potsdam Central debates cafeteria layoffs

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POTSDAM - When the board of education meets next month, they’ll likely vote on whether to immediately lay off as many as five employees from its food services department.

Food Services Manager David J. Graveline said the district could see immediate savings by laying off a cashier, cafeteria monitor and three dishwashers this year.

Just a couple months into the school year, Mr. Graveline said he projected his department would lose roughly $85,000 this year. That number is now significantly lower, but not low enough, he said.

“We made some adjustments and changed some things, so we’ve got that down to $65,000,” he said, noting that calculation does not include money saved by the potential layoffs.

In an effort to shrink that deficit, Mr. Graveline said he’s proposing five layoffs that, in his opinion, would have a minimal impact on the department.

By serving elementary students in only one cafeteria instead of two, Mr. Graveline said he could lay off a cafeteria monitor and cashier.

“In the past, we’ve operated two cafeterias in the elementary,” he said. “It didn’t really benefit our operations. We did it to help Larry (Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne) out.”

Mr. Graveline also proposed switching to disposable trays and utensils, a move that would allow the district to also lay off three dishwashers, a move that would bring additional savings this year of between $15,000 and $16,000.

“Who would wash pots and pans?” board of education member Frederick C. Stone Jr. asked.

Mr. Graveline said those dishes would be washed by other cafeteria personnel.

Board member Wade A. Davis expressed concerns with the environmental impact of the proposal, as well as the impact it would have on those people’s lives.

“Those trays aren’t going to be sitting in a landfill for the next 300 years are they?” he asked, to which Mr. Graveline replied the usage of biodegradable products would eliminate much of the savings.

He noted biodegradable trays costs 18 cents each, while Styrofoam trays are 3 cents each.

“Something is bothering me with these numbers, and it’s the amount of foam that’s going to be sitting in a landfill for the next 300 years,” Mr. Davis said. “You’re weighing the purchase of foreign made products versus three dishwashers.”

Mr. Davis also asked if increased trash costs were taken into consideration.

Mr. Graveline said after speaking with other districts using disposable products he’s not expecting there to be that much of an increase in garbage, noting the students stack the trays prior to their disposal. “It’s just a couple of bags,” he said.

Mr. Stone wondered if unemployment costs had been accounted for, which they had not, with Superintendent Patrick H. Brady noting unemployment is “a short term expense.”

“We have to look at what the total cost is going to be,” he said. “If it’s only a couple thousand (in savings), I’m probably not going to support this,”

J. Patrick Turbett, who chairs the district’s finance committee, noted he too would have a hard time dumping thousands of Styrofoam trays into landfills just to save a few bucks.

“Education is expensive, but even more expensive is ignorance,” he said. “If we have to pay more, maybe we should sometimes.”

Thomas C. Hobbs, who serves on the finance committee with Mr. Turbett, asked whether the positions would be inserted back into the budget for next year when the department’s finances might not be so bad.

He said that wasn’t in his plans.

Business Manager Laura Hart said she’s projecting the food services department to break even next year, due in large part to BOCES aid they will receive since the director’s position is now shared with Parishville-Hopkinton.

Board President Christopher C. Cowen said that running in the red isn’t ideal, but for the food services department it’s not exactly unprecedented.

“Obviously we don’t want to be in the red, but this isn’t something that’s new,” he said, before asking Ms. Hart how much money the general fund has had to contribute to the department in the past.

Prior to Mr. Graveline’s arrival at the district, Ms. Hart said it wasn’t unusual for the district to subsidize the department to the tune of between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.

“It’s (food services) going to cost us this money. We need to find a way to pay for it,” Mr. Cowen said.

Ms. Hart and Mr. Brady noted though financial times were a little bit better back then.

“As Laura said, we had a little more money to put into it,” Mr. Brady said.

The cashier and cafeteria monitor position cuts were actually included on Tuesday night’s original agenda, but amended off of the document prior to the document’s adoption once the meeting began.

Mr. Brady said he expects each of the measures to come up for a board vote at one of next month’s meetings.

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