On Sept. 22, the teachers in the Hawaii State Teachers Association ratified a contract that calls for 17 furlough days, which begin this month. The state's department of education hopes this move will stop the economic bleeding that Hawaii has experienced during the past year. While students may be rejoicing the move, it's causing some logistical problems for the DOE's School Food Service Branch, which provides 100,000 meals each day. FSD talked with Glenna Owens, School Food Services director for the Hawaii Department of Education, to see how the furlough affects the agency.
How does the furlough affect School Food Services?
Overall, this is affecting us because we won't have participation and we will not be getting the USDA reimbursements for the meals we would have sold. And we have two unions, which represent our cafeteria employees, and those employees still need to report to work. So that is where the disparity will be until the other unions ratify their agreements. We are going to have folks showing up for work when there are no meals to prepare. Even worse, since there are two bargaining units, they [may not] match what the teachers have already voted on. I don't want to speculate what is going to happen, but at the moment everybody is on a wait and see pattern.
How will the lost school days affect contracts you had already negotiated before the cuts?
We do a projection in the contract where we project usage. Throughout the year, we monitor to see how we are doing on usage. So by the end of June, which is the end of our fiscal year, we have to make sure that we've used everything that was projected.
So far we've been OK and we haven't had to go back to any of our vendors to renegotiate contracts. We are a large school district-we have 256 schools-and we usually meet our goals. Sometimes we meet our goals before the year is out, so at this point I think it's too early to predict how we are going to be as far as usage.
The other thing is we do have summer programs that start in June, and because of the stimulus money we've had more schools in the state that are taking advantage of this program, so we can use some of those projections for our summer feeding.
For some students, the meals they eat at school are the only meals they eat for the day. Are you worried about these lost opportunities for children to eat nutritious meals? What, if anything, is being done to help these students?
We are absolutely worried about this. The National School Lunch and Breakfast program is only when school is in session. In the Department of Education, there is no funding to provide meals for children when school is not in session. So at that point if they are not in school and school is not officially open, it is up to the parents to provide meals for their children. There are no general funds or federal funds to cover meals when school is not in session.
The furloughs were negotiated through the teachers union. Will School Food Service employees also receive furlough days on the same days? If not, what will the foodservice employees do on the days when children are not in school?
The school foodservice employees come under the direction of their administrators. So the principals will be assigning tasks and other duties to them as necessary. It will most likely be cleaning because training schedules are developed a year ahead and they opportunities are already planned out.
The furloughs were negotiated as a way to cut budgets without any job cuts. What other cost-cutting methods are being done in School Food Services?
When we were looking at the department's budget, we put in a hold on new equipment and since then, we've received some stimulus money to buy some equipment. There was a department-wide hold on travel to conferences. As far as our program, there were minimal opportunities for cutbacks. On the small side, we are looking to consolidate some of our smaller kitchens to have a central kitchen. We would do this where we wouldn't have to displace anybody. So if a manager retires, we could look at converting that kitchen to a satellite kitchen.