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School Board Mulls Nutrition, Nepotism Policies

The district's policies regarding nutrition and the hiring of family members as coaches dominated discussion at Monday's school board work session meeting.

On Monday, October 3, the Upper Dublin School Board met at the for its monthly work session. At these meetings, members publicly discuss items that will be voted on during the following week's legislative meeting. Read on to find out about what the board discussed this week, and what it will act on when it next convenes on Monday, October 10.

Board decides to keep 'nepotism' policy, limiting the hiring of coaches related to district employees

What: Upper Dublin School District currently has a policy (301.1, 401.1, 501.1) that limits the hiring of substitute, temporary, and extra-curricular employees who are related to district employees. Policy chair David Robinson proposed that they strike the extra-curricular restriction, arguing that often times a relative might be the best person for the job, and that the section of the policy regarding extra-curricular employees is waived on a nearly annual basis. Board president Michael Paston argued against, saying that it would open the door for favoritism and unfair pressure on those with hiring responsibilities.

Who said what:

David Robinson, school board member:

  • "The reason why the policy is so good as it currently stands is that it's, to my knowledge, the strictest nepotism policy in the area…and I like that, but the question has been that when there is a candidate who comes forward and is related to someone working in the district, whether it's a violation of policy to waive the policy, or whether it's OK for the board to waive the policy."
  • "There are certain circumstances where we don't have a choice, where there's only one applicant or where the one applicant, who happens to be the relative, is by far the best applicant."

Michael Paston, school board president:

  • "Now if the superintendent's brother is one of ten applicants, he becomes the best even if he's not the best. Because what subordinate athletic director is going to say 'I have somebody better?'… The reason you have the policy is to take the human nature piece out of the equation, and give people the reason based on policy, to not go there in the first place."

What's next:  The board ultimately agreed to leave the policy as is, but asked administrators to include a question on applications regarding relation to any employees, in order to make the issue more transparent. Board members also stated they could exercise their right to waive the policy in certain cases if necessary.

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Board discusses changes to nutrition and wellness policy, Nutrition in Schools states greivances

What: The Upper Dublin School Board has been preparing alterations to its Nutrition and Wellness guidelines since last spring, due to changes in federal regulations and out of desire to improve standards inside the district. Nutrition in the Schools, a local parental initiative, has been vocal at meetings and a force in the creation of an advisory committee-- a coalition of parents, teachers and food services staff who work together to generate new ideas for healthy foods.

The board discussed changes to the policy, including the wording of the goal of reducing the use and sale of highly processed foods, and new rules that encourage teachers to select healthy options (i.e. not cupcakes) for birthday parties, and limit celebrations to once a month. Nutrition in the Schools members used the community input section to praise the district for recent changes, but also filed grievances that they felt that the advisory committee was being left in the dark on many food services decisions.

Who said what:

Jill Florin, Dresher, Nutrition in the Schools founder:

  • "It seems as though, according to the latest information from the wellness committee meeting, that principals and teachers are well aware of the initiative and are happy to be supporting it… However, there has not been any marketing to support the change [to healthier food]."
  • "Instead of utilizing the taste tests for the newest addition to the menu, we are taste testing things like sauce and sweet potatoes… as per the new wellness policy regulation, the advisory committee is supposed to approve any items prior to them being taste tested or added to the menu."
  • "At this time, the advisory committee has not been involved at all for the September, nor October, taste test. In addition, some of the items that were listed on the September menu had been substituted without parents' knowledge."

Carolyn Smith, Maple Glen, supporter of Nutrition in the Schools:

  • "Will there be any administrative regulation or oversight on food service, reporting on interim goals, so that we don't just have a policy and not follow through?… I'm hoping we can have some reporting or accountability that can keep us on track… otherwise the policy is at risk of being a toothless tiger."

Michael Pladus, district superintendent:

  • "Children are like adults, when given choices, people won't always take what's best for them. So the challenge for us is can we come up with food that's more nutritious, that tastes good, that kids want to buy, that we can purchase and prepare in a cost efficient manner?"
  • "From an accountability standpoint, what we have to do is continue to meet, continue to talk, look at the menu items that are available, look at the bottom line financially where we are, and I think the accountability is just in ongoing communications."

David Robinson, school board member: 

  • "Our administration, including [food service director] Patti Dell'Aringa, has been working extremely hard toward a systemic improvement to our food services department, and we're getting there."

What's next:

The board will vote on the specific changes to the policy at its October 10, 2011 meeting. Administrators have said that increased, continuing communication between the district, advisory committee and parents is the solution to the complaints of community members.

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Local church asks for $44,000 in tax abatement

What: The Mar Thoma Church Philadelphia purchased property to begin a new congregation at 1085 Camphill Road, Fort Washington, on December 28, 2010. They began paying taxes for the property while applying for non-profit, tax exempt status. The church was granted the status in September 2011, meaning they will no longer pay property taxes beginning January 1st, and has asked the school board for return and abatement of $44,000 in taxes previously collected or scheduled for collection.

Who said what:

Mar Thoma representative:

  • "Our request to the school board is two-fold. One, tax abatement for the taxes that the church has paid to date through June 30, 2011, approximately $14,400. The second request is for a waiver of the school taxes to the church from July 1, 2011 to July 30, 2012, and that amount is approximately $30,000"

What's next: The board motioned to vote on the matter at the next legislative meeting on Monday, October 10.

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Other items discussed:

  • Recommendation that the board approve PlanCon, Part I, a change order to the high school building project.
  • Recommendation that the board retain Lukens & Wolf real estate appraisers and consultants for appraisal of 600-602 Office Center Drive, not to exceed $12,000.
  • Recommendation that the board discuss facility use permit request by Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and waive fees for an October 15 "Battle of the Bands" concert at Sandy Run Middle School
  • Approval of the purchase of a Webus/Telvue player for district broadcasting, not to exceed $6,500.
  • Approval of bus schedules for the 2011-12 school year as currently filed.

What do you think? Let us know in the polls below and share your opinion in the comments section. For questions about the article, e-mail Kyle Bagenstose at Kyle@Patch.com or talk to us on Facebook or Twitter.

Kyle Bagenstose October 08, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Hey everyone, thanks for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. There are a number of elements to the "nutrition issue" and I'll be sure to run pieces in the future to further cover and foster discussion about it. Please continue to share your opinions here, but as someone mentioned, here is the link to the Food Services Wikispace discussion board, for anyone who wants to send comments directly to them. http://udfs.wikispaces.com/Message+Board
UD Mom October 09, 2011 at 12:42 AM
As an active member of NIS, I have taken time to look over the Wikispace page that is run by UDFS. I agree that there is in fact lots of great information that we did not have last year. However, as Stacey points out below, there have been comments (more than one) that were questioning specific items and why they were served. These were posted a couple of weeks ago and were deleted a few days later. No response from UDFS was ever posted. Also, users are not allowed to upload any documents. Some of us wanted to share the information and research we have gathered but were unable to do so because of this rule. This type of non-user friendly interface makes it difficult to start a conversation. I also wanted to note that the "no" list that has been referred to in other comments is a fact based list -- utilizing scientific research from reputable sources, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Mary Keptke October 09, 2011 at 02:18 AM
I guess Deb and Stacey have just highlighted how the NIS treats people who do not agree with them or NIS tactics. Many folks in the district have been saying this about the group privately but hopefully this public forum will allow others to see their true nature. Election day is near and there are a few school board members up for re-election. Look at the ones with ties to this group and I hope you vote accordingly. The numbers above seem to reflect how people truly feel.
Stacey Margo October 09, 2011 at 04:18 AM
Mary, our initiative is full of educated, resource-based facts on the current state of nutrition and wellness of today's children, ALONG with the knowledge of the school's budgetary and financial concerns. That's not bullying, that's fact. Your comments, however, reflect ignorance. If you'd like to go head-to-head on facts, we'd be happy to debate with you but will not tolerate and engage in name-calling. Of course there will be disagreements along the way but the over-arching goal to provide healthy, nutritional based meals for all children in our district is the number one goal. And I, too, do hope people vote accordingly.
Jodi Hallen October 10, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Mary, when you said that you think that we are using our children to make a name for ourselves I was very insulted. We are using our children by wanting their health to be a #1 concern? Are you serious? We are being attacked my our own community members (are you a UD resident BTW?) because we want the best for our children! We want our children to be able to go to school and be served food free of chemicals linked to childhood related illnesses. Sure we can pack lunches, those of us that know better. But if the district is concerned about the $$ than why not work together to create healthy and delicious foods that are cost effective? It's out there! We want this! We want to work together. The food services has made strides in this area. We are happy for some of these advances but we can't stop here. We must continue and not go back. For those parents that cannot afford to pack lunches and will continue to buy lunches, their children deserve the same healthy food! The bottom line that we all seem to be forgetting is that we are a committe that has a goal to work TOGETHER. So let's do just that. Mary, Bea, Joan, Joe, Pam, Maria...if you are residents of Upper Dublin and want to work together to find a solution that is both profitable and heart healthy, let's come together and do just that. It has been proven elsewhere and can be done. There are over 100 members on the NIS committee who find it important to do just this.

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