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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.

Pamela Gallagher October 05, 2011 at 12:34 PM
School Nutrition professionals across the country are working extremely hard to provide nutritious foods that students enjoy, at a reasonable cost...all while following state and federal regulations. This is a marriage of administration, education and good business. While we appreciate parent involvement and input...we cannot allow the "advisory" committee to run our business. In addition, marketing costs money and takes a great deal of time (time is money too), can UD get the advisory committee to volunteer their time and resources to help raise money for a marketing campaign?
Joe Koenig October 05, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Right on Pam!! Let those parents prepare meals everyday and bring the to the schools.
MariaElena October 05, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Great comment Pamela. I ate at the High School cafeteria last week and the food was delicious! How about we stop wasting the district's time and money on this? Every time a school district employee attends a meeting to appease this advisory committee it cost the district money, and when these meetings go on for hours it cost the district a lot of money, money that can be spent on real necessities, like after school buses or classroom aides. Food services do a remarkable job at providing healthy, nutritious meals that kids will eat for the 5 meals they are at school. They do this while meeting or exceeding government regulations, with food that that is available from local suppliers and costing the district nothing. I would like to mention that the people who work at the district are individuals with the education and experience in nutrition and food service. They are the ones I want making all the decisions on what is served to my children. If someone doesn’t like the food they can pack their kids lunch. Stop wasting the districts time and money on this.
Deb October 05, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Are you kidding me,Jill florin has worked very hard at getting fresh food in the schools,not the district,and no one is saying it's the employees cause it's not they work very hard also!!it's about the kids,at least at my elementary school the food has gotten much better this year due to the parents and Jill,..I have been there in the cafertia and the kids are eating fruit loops with chocolate milk to me that unexceptable!it's about the kids who don't get meals at home that need to eat heathly,oh we shouldnt care about them,get educated on this then make comments,not way to go Pam,that's just wrong. My daughter is gluten free so she can't even buy school lunch,I don't fight that I just pack her lunch..if its only about money then maybe everyone should pack lunch and we should get rid of lunches in school and hire more teachers,that would take care of a lot of issues!!so stop saying we are not doing a good thing for healthier meals,we are just parents looking out!I think Jill did a great job and she should not be treated as if this was a crime she committed !
Jodi Hallen October 05, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Pam, marketing can be as simple and cheap as balloons on a salad bar, a poster board announcing a new and improved food service, a morning announcement over the loud speaker, an encouraging word from the teacher, staff, etc. If enough people understand the message the dollars will surely follow. Also, as it has been stated, most buyers of school lunches are comprised of kids of parents who are either working and use the food service for convenience and the next largest group are those that use it as a necessity. Without giving unhealthy food choices, kids don't have to make the decisions. It's already done for them. Instead of having to select food made up of processed and trans fats, how about tasty foods made up of whole wheat and natural ingredients? It can be done. It is proven. Our kids are worth it.
Stacey Margo October 05, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Children come to school expecting the best in education, which includes physical and nutritional. If you look at what is currently being served, it is well below adequate, and well below federal standards. If you think it is a waste of parents time, shame on you. Health and well-being for our children is the only priority! 4 in 10 children in the US today suffer from obesity and diabetes! To criticize efforts, to minimize the time taken from other important areas? Can you look in the mirror and say you do everything necessary to save the lives of children...perhaps those whose parents can't afford to pack lunches and rely solely on school-provided food? Shame on you for your judgement for those of us who attempt to make a difference and give voices to those who may not have a voice. Sorry if it bothers you so much. As I say, if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything..
Mary Keptke October 06, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Stop wasting the districts money and time! Let people do their job. No more meetings on nutrition. Leave the wellness policy alone. You want to curb childhood obesity, shut off the TV interact with your children. FYI the food service Ann Cooper manages is deeply in debt. Do we want that? BTW leave the cupcakes alone.
Christine Tranchida October 06, 2011 at 03:19 AM
The reason many people don't understand why it's important to model for our children what healthy eating looks like is simple. Americans have been brought up on processed foods and many still don't see anything wrong with them. The levels of obesity, diabetes and other weight related diseases are the same in the adult population. The many people that don't know how to eat healthy themselves and can't recognize the difference between processed and quality foods are not going to fight for this. The schools need to take the lead in teaching children what healthy eating looks like, so we don't end up with more generations of unhealthy people that make poor food choices. It's not just Upper Dublin that is trying to make these changes. It's nationwide as people all over our country are waking up and realizing that our food supply is flawed. We are not taking the lead here, we are behind in implementing these changes. Many area school districts have had wellness policies and not allowed unhealthy food in their classrooms for years (ie Wissahicken). This is not some crazy initiative, we are bringing up the rear and thank you to Jill and all the people that have gotten us moving in the right direction.
Deb October 06, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Horrible comment mary,you should be ashamed,I'm sorry to say
Patrick October 06, 2011 at 01:33 PM
I felt obligated to chime in after reading all of these ridiculous comments, "bring back the cupcakes" was the the top of the list for me. I wonder if Mary is a mom, grandmother, or suffers from diabetes, obesity or has family members that do, or reads a newspaper or watches the news and is aware of the growing issues of today. Does she consider herself someone who is informed with world issues? I would love Mary to spend some time educating herself about what is really happening with nutrition and understand why this issue is such a hot topic for us parents and the country at large. And Mary, if the name Michelle Obama means anything to you, check out her views on nutrition. After reading what she thinks about the state of food services for kids, you may just decide to skip on those cupcakes afterall.
Joe October 06, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Patrick, WAWAWAWAWAWAWA!!!!
Bea October 07, 2011 at 02:43 AM
Patrick, you need to read the comment. It says "leave the cupcakes alone". When you vilify one food you make it something very desirable. Wellness policies need enforcement. Food should not be a part of the wellness policy. Once a month parties are a great idea! I think Mary makes good points. We should be turning off the TV and interacting with our kids and we should allow the people who are professionals do their job. This meddling is costing the district money, which in these tough economic times is something, we cannot afford. I know the district is trying to make things better, and they have been trying to do this for a very long time. Well before this group made an issue of it. However, they have restrictions as to supply and change takes time. I spoke to a parent the other day whose children must buy every day and she hates the new menu. She is waiting for her kids to get “use to it” meanwhile she says they come home starving. Forcing the district to put things on the menu is not the answer. We should not dictate what goes on the menu and we cannot remove milk (flavored or not) from the menu. It is the single best way to give kids calcium. We need to let the district employees do their job without our interference.
Deb October 07, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Wow,I'm shocked again,this has to be the most ignorant people,clueless people,sad people!!learn about nutrition PEOPLE!!if a doctor or Jamie Oliver(which might just happen) came to the district he'd be somewhat happy with the menu today NOT LAST YEARS!if you want chicken nuggets with fillers and high fcs then open your mouth and eat it.MY sOn is happy with some of the new menu ,your kid is use to crap food so teaching them to eat healthier is very important ,you don't think so?Stop bashing it,it's food and kids need to know good nutrition from a young age not high school.So don't tell Patrick wawawawawa,it not nice.the committee has worked hard,what do you do for the school?..the district has not tried to get fresh food the COMMITEE DID!!get over it and except that there are people who care you a small amount of peeps who don't care,I feel sorry for you that you are against good nutrition !!!!!!!!
Joe Koenig October 07, 2011 at 01:24 PM
WOW DEB, the vitriol spewing from your post. No one is against better nutrition, but many of us are cautious about regulations and regulators. First it is healthier foods in the cafateria, then despite what is said, no cupcakes at bake sales, then zero tolerance for banned food items children bring or sneak to school (which is inevitable) resulting in suspensions. This may sound silly to you, but regulators regulate!! and if they don't, they're out of a job.
Mary Keptke October 07, 2011 at 01:27 PM
No, we are against bullying by a very small group of people trying to make a name for themselves by using our children. I want people with degrees in nutrition making the school lunch choices.
Bill October 07, 2011 at 04:15 PM
A little food for thought,, I think nutrition is very important, But I think there are more pressing matters on the horizon, Your current schoolboard has admitted that there is a catastrophic budget short fall coming (tens of millions) of dollars, both administrations have raised your taxes over 25% in the last 2 years and 100% in the last 10,,If we don't make some very smart decisions soon! We could be seeing 100% increase in the next 5 years. So maybe then instead of talking about what to feed our children, it could mean (HOW) to feed our children!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
justme October 07, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Dear All - It seems that there is a considerable amount of unnecessary arguing about an issue that should not be controversial. Unfortunately, misinformation and incorrect assumptions have caused confusion. Nutrition in the Schools (NIS) only goal is to help UDSD provide better food choices-period! Since the very start, NIS recognized the importance of managing the financial aspects of these changes too. NIS tried for more than 18 months to obtain and understand food service costs; you may be surprised that good quality data doesn’t exist. Because of NIS, better data will now be collected. Secondly, a myth is circulating that better food will mean higher costs--this also is untrue. NIS did an assessment and found that costs will be similar--and in some cases, even lower. The last part of the puzzle is to manage sales. It is my understanding that the new foods were to be effectively marketed--apparently this has not (yet) occurred. NIS investigated other districts around the country--in every case, there was a short drop in sales that soon changed to a sustained increase in sales. Progress has been made. What has caused tension is that agreements have not always been fully honored. This is not the way many community members behave at work or in their personal lives. Lastly, before NIS became active, sales were dropping for the past several years--something needed to be done to improve the situation--NIS' solution: Better Food = Better Sales. Why not join us!
Joan October 08, 2011 at 02:16 AM
Joan- There seems to be as much emotion here as if we were talking about politics,religion, or even today's economy. I met both the Food Service Director and the Cafeteria Manager at the MG Back to School Night. They were both touting their new program and specifically encouraging parents to log onto their new Food Service Wikispace. WOW! Have you checked it out? It is awesome. Do you know how time-consuming web development is? No other district is even close to posting what we at UD has on it's site. What I don't understand is, there is a WIKI comment page and hardly anyone is making comments on it. The Director, Patty said they were soliciting honest candid comments. She said their goal is to provide the menu items that the community wants. There is a diverse range of opinions posted here. Why are we not commenting on the WIKI comment board so our voices will be heard by those who can actually do something about it?
Joan October 08, 2011 at 02:33 AM
Joan --again--I am glad to hear that popularity records are being kept with the new menu items. Time will tell how successful this new menu really is. I don't know what the recent history of Food Services finances are, but I know that in this current economic enviroment we are not going to want it to go into the red. We need balance of many things in this world, why not here too in our cafeterias? What is so wrong about having something for everyone's taste preference? I do have a question for Stacey Appelstein though, at the Board meeting you mentioned a "NO List" . What is that all about? What is on it? Is it posted anywhere? From my observations, I think we all need to be on the same page in regard to " What is HEALTHY?" Does Michele Obama's program have this "NO List"? Isn't the lunch program based on scientific information of nutrition? I would have to think so. If this "NO List" is so important or real, how come it is not included specifically on any of the federal school lunch information that everyone knows about and has to follow? I know UD is a special place to live, that is why we are all here. I am just expecting an overall tolerance for all our residents, regardless of their nutritional preference. In my opinion, there should be a variety of choices that range the entire spectrum of nutritional preferences for students and parents. If your lifestyle is more restrictive, you can always exercise your right to PACK.
justme October 08, 2011 at 06:20 PM
Maria – I am curious about your comments....For example, what meal did you eat at the UD High School—and why were you permitted to have lunch there? Specifically, which meetings are you referring to that food service employees were forced to attend to appease the advisory committee? [NIS has never asked any food service employee to attend any meeting.] It would be a shame if it did cost money—who told you this information? Please answer these questions.
Stacey Margo October 08, 2011 at 08:05 PM
Joan-- Items on the "no list": High Fructose corn syrup, high sugar (1st or second ingredient), trans fats to include partially and fully hydrogenated oils, MSG, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives and artificial sweeteners. These are all ingredients that we do not want in our foods, as they are all ingredients that have been associated with some sort of adverse health issue. Speaking for several members of the NIS Committee, we agree with you that if people are not happy with a school menu that is promoting healthy choices, THEY should be the ones to pack a lunch!!!! Schools are about doing the right thing...and if you look at a newspaper, you will see that UD is way behind many other schools that have already taken this step. As for the Wiki space, I have been told that parent comments were left and have been deleted, and just because people do not write on a website, does not mean that they do not like what is going on...I, for one, do no use wiki to it's full potential, but, like others, fully support this initiative.
Stacey Margo October 08, 2011 at 08:08 PM
I am just so shocked and sickened at the amount of ignorance surrounding this initiative...and health and well-being of our children. Shame on all of you choosing to stay complacent, suggest we let others speak on behalf of our kids and thusly assume they know what's best for them. Your ignorance and lack of care is just reprehensible. I pray that you never stand in a position of authority for surely our country would be fatter and unhealthier than it already is... I truly pity the children you advocate for...what a sad sad world you must live in.
Stacey Margo October 08, 2011 at 09:49 PM
No one is arguing that there are other, equally important issues. That said, if children of today are obese and suffering from type 2 diabetes because of WHAT we serve our children, how can we ignore this??? How can we as educated adults ignore this pressing, dire issue? We are working hard, trying to come up with solutions (and doing a great job!) that come well within--if not below--budget to do this. We are finding ways that are both cost AND time effective. That will ultimately increase sales in the long run. That are tasty... AND that adhere to FEDERAL and USDA guidelines.
Stacey Margo October 08, 2011 at 09:54 PM
Mary, do you even know what true bullying is? Because I was bullied in high-school...head in the toilet, bullied. Please do not mis-use this term for the sake of making stupid, dramatic stances that only serve to exploit your ignorance. The NIS only serves to enhance the well-being of of ALL children...at no one's expense. You, on the other hand, have an old-fashioned, meat & potatoes mentality that is damaging to those that don't know any better. Shame on you. Perhaps you should attend not just a wellness meeting but an Anti-Bullying seminar as well. Education and Knowledge is the first step to making change for the better.
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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