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Newton's school cafeteria workers fight for their jobs

Posted by Caitlin Castello  February 8, 2010 04:18 PM

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As Newton Public Schools looks to privatize cafeteria services, the union representing the schools' 65 cafeteria workers is reaching out to Newton parents for support in the fight to keep the workers' jobs.

In a letter to several Parent Teacher Organizations, Tim Curry, president of the Newton Public School Custodians Association, the union which represent cafeteria and custodial workers, advocates against the outsourcing, saying it will lead to poor service. He said the 65 workers rely heavily on their salaries to support their families.

“These workers, almost exclusively female, have dedicated many years of service to the system and, are among the lowest paid workers in the system,” Curry writes. “Your children deserve to have someone handling their food who has a strong
connection to the community and is concerned about the quality of food services for those children. The employees who live in this community and whose children also have attended Newton Schools will provide that service; contracted employees with no connection to Newton will not.”

The Newton School administration hired a consultant to evaluate the steps to privatization of cafeteria services, said interim Superintendent V. James Marini. The consultants are now gathering information and not close to making a decision, said Marini.

“These are really hard fiscal times,” said Marini. “Everyone is looking at every way, shape and form to be as efficient as they can, without compromising the program.”

On Sunday, Mayor Setti Warren announced an estimated $6 million gap in the school budget for Newton.

In an interview, Curry said it is not fair to blame money loss on the workers. Many of the cafeteria workers are older women, and many live in Newton, he said. They are waiting to hear what the consultant reports to the administration.

“We are willing to work with the school department in any way we can to avert this it and come up with any cost saving plans,” said Curry.

Last May, the Newton School Committee voted to explore the option of privatization of the cafeteria services after a subcommittee found that the school district expects to lose
$905,000 on food services last year, compared with $416,000 in 2006. Part of the deficit, the subcommittee reported, stems from low participation in the school lunch program, ranging from 25 percent at the city's high schools to 60 percent at Lincoln-Eliot Elementary School.

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