School kitchens cut to the bone?

Posted: July 02, 2011

With the pall of thousands of layoffs hanging in the air, parents poured their hearts out to the School Reform Commission yesterday about cuts in bilingual education and school cafeterias.

"Do not cut our interpreters," Angelica Victoriano, 25, said through a translator. Her two children, a girl and boy ages 6 and 10, attend Andrew Jackson Elementary School in South Philly. "The cuts of interpreters make us feel discriminated against as Latinos and members of different cultures. Without them we don't have a voice."

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that some positions were cut because they were not designated as bilingual, and that bilingual teachers have been added in schools where there were little or no bilingual services.

Meanwhile, the district plans to eliminate 26 full-service kitchens in elementary and middle schools. Kids in those schools will now eat pre-plated food, which the district says still meets federal standards.

The kitchen conversions would save the District $2.5 million, said Wayne Grasela, senior vice president of food service for the district.

"These meals are highly processed," said Alyssa Moles, of the Food Trust. "Converting these kitchens is a step backward."

Ackerman said she wanted the SRC and the head of the district's food services to meet before finalizing the kitchen conversions.

Although the district laid off 3,400 workers to help close a $629 million deficit Thursday, its financial crunch is far from over, as the state Legislature restored a measly $22 million from the nearly $300 million that Gov. Corbett cut, leaving the district with $35 million more to slash.

"It's possible that additional layoffs will occur, but it's too soon for us to say with any certainty," said district spokeswoman Shana Kemp.

The district has also factored $75 million in union concessions into their budget. They say they'll have to lay off 111 workers for every $10 million they don't get.

Chairman Robert Archie Jr. said that the SRC would not cancel union contracts yesterday as it had originally threatened if the unions didn't agree to givebacks. The SRC will meet later this month for a briefing on the progress of those negotiations.

"We're encouraged by the progress of the discussions and it's our desire that the school district continue with those talks," Archie said.

Michael Masch, the district's chief financial officer, hoped the unions would agree to decline raises and increased health benefits next year to avoid more layoffs.

Meanwhile, the SRC approved $450 million in tax and revenue anticipation notes, also known as TRANS loans, which the district needs until it receives funding from the state and city. The loan will cost the district $2.85 million.

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