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Gary food service workers spared layoffs ... for now

Updated: September 29, 2014 12:03PM



GARY — A divided school board rejected an administrative recommendation to lay off 15 food service workers, who apparently will remain on the district’s cash-strapped payroll without job assignments.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt recommended laying off the workers Tuesday in the wake of the closing of four schools in June. Classes began in the district Aug. 20.

Dissenting board members argued the layoffs came too late and it’s still unclear whether the workers are needed in the cafeterias of the remaining schools.

Human Resources Director Willie Cook said the layoffs would save the district about $175,000. He said the layoffs were necessary because of declining enrollment, school closings and a budget deficit.

If the layoffs were approved, the district would have 55 remaining food service workers in 12 schools, he said.

Board member LaBrenda King-Smith called the layoff notices a sign of “blatant disrespect.” She said they should have voted on the layoffs months ago.

“There’s no guarantee these individuals will be able to receive unemployment compensation that they paid into,” King-Smith said. “My heart goes out to these workers.”

Shea Marshall, who represents Service Employees International Union Local 73, said there may not be a need for the layoffs.

“I understand there are other jobs to be filled in the district ... I ask you please not to pass this RIF (reduction in force) until we are able to assess more.”

Dissenting board members Marion Williams and Nellie Moore said every student in the district is eligible for a free lunch.

“There are potentially more students participating in the program, so you need more people to service them,” Williams said.

King-Smith, Williams, Moore and Robert Campbell opposed the layoffs.

School officials and other board members worried about paying idle workers.

Board member Doretha Rouse said the workers on layoff could be recalled, if needed.

“We eliminated teachers and paraprofessionals. We can’t get caught in our biases, our preferences. We’re trying to keep this school system going, keep it afloat. Nobody wants to eliminate anyone,” she said.

Earlier in the summer, the board laid off 39 teachers and more than 50 paraprofessionals who assist teachers in the classroom.

Meanwhile, the board approved a food service contract with Sodexo Magic even though the program is running a $1.5 million deficit. It had been operating with a deficit before the district contracted with Sodexo last year.

The board had approved the contract last week in a special meeting.

On Tuesday, the board backtracked, declaring that action “null and void” after state officials, who oversee spending because of the district’s high-risk designation, recommended minor contract changes.



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