Food service personnel shortage discussed

By: Thomas Franz | C&G Newspapers | Published November 30, 2016

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP/MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Due to a changing economic climate locally, the Chippewa Valley school district is facing a shortage of food service and custodial personnel.

During a Nov. 14 Board of Education meeting, Mary Ann Reed-Panchenko, a food service employee at Miami Elementary, expressed her frustration with the lack of help in her building and elsewhere throughout the district.

“We have a really serious problem in food service, and I’m not sure that the gravity of that is understood by everybody, but it’s felt by us,” she said during the meeting.

Reed-Panchenko said substitutes are very difficult to be found if she or her assistant can’t make it to work. 

“If I get a fever, and I have to be off 24 hours, where’s the sub? It’s the nature of food service that if you’re sick, you can’t serve food. I can’t get sick,” Reed-Panchenko said. “We all feel like we’re low priority; that there’s no help for us.”

Superintendent Ron Roberts acknowledged Reed-Panchenko’s concerns, and said this is not a new problem for the district.

“Over time, the economy has changed and we compete now for people to work these odd blocks of hours in the middle of the day with every other business on Hall Road, because where they’ll take those people for those odd hours now, they wouldn’t in the past,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the nature of the food service work as opposed to employment at other businesses makes it harder to attract workers.

“It’s a lot easier folding clothing at the Gap and putting it back at the counter, rather than having 120 kids show up your door wanting certain types of foods and wanting it now,” Roberts said. “It is a hard job, and we will talk about this more to see what we can do to solve the problem.”

In a bit of good news, Roberts said later in the week that several food service and custodial positions throughout the district have recently been filled.

“We’ve really heavily recruited. A lot of our meeting today (Nov. 16) was about food service, and I learned that most of the positions available now will be filled, so hopefully the concerns expressed last night will be resolved shortly, and same with our custodians. We recently had some more luck with recruiting some custodians, so hopefully it all works.”

Roberts also said that the district’s position as an underfunded district compared to other districts statewide makes it difficult to maintain perfect staffing levels.

The district receives about $7,500 in funding per pupil, and Roberts quoted a study that said the optimal funding level is $8,800 per pupil.

“What we have to spend to run these programs has not increased over time in order to meet the needs of people who want to work here and do the hard work that people do in our lunchrooms,” Roberts said. 

“All we can hope is that somewhere down the line, people will understand that public education is important, that people who work in jobs, no matter what they do in schools, are important, and they fund us to the level that we can hire people that they’ll want to come and work in our schools to do this work.”

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