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Potsdam Central debates cafeteria layoffs

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POTSDAM — When the Potsdam Central School Board of Education meets next month, it likely will vote on whether to lay off immediately as many as five employees from the food services department.

Food services Manager David J. Graveline said the district could see immediate savings by laying off a cashier, a cafeteria monitor and three dishwashers this year.

Just a couple of months into the school year, Mr. Graveline said he projected his department would lose about $85,000 this year. That number is now lower, but not low enough, he said. “We made some adjustments and changed some things, so we’ve got that down to $65,000,” he said, noting the calculation does not include money saved by the potential layoffs.

In an effort to shrink that deficit, Mr. Graveline said, he’s proposing five layoffs that, in his opinion, would have a minimal impact on the department.

By serving elementary pupils in only one cafeteria instead of two, Mr. Graveline said, a cafeteria monitor and cashier could be laid off.

“In the past, we’ve operated two cafeterias in the elementary,” he said. “It didn’t really benefit our operations. We did it to help Larry (Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne) out.”

Mr. Graveline also proposed switching to disposable trays and utensils, which would allow the district also to lay off three dishwashers, a move that would bring additional savings this year of $15,000 to $16,000.

Board of Education member Frederick C. Stone Jr. asked, “Who would wash pots and pans?”

Mr. Graveline said those dishes would be washed by other cafeteria personnel.

Board member Wade A. Davis expressed concerns about the proposal’s environmental impact, and how the layoffs would affect those people’s lives.

“Those trays aren’t going to be sitting in a landfill for the next 300 years, are they?” he asked, to which Mr. Graveline said the use of biodegradable products would eliminate much of the savings.

He said biodegradable trays costs 18 cents each, while Styrofoam trays are 3 cents each.

“Something is bothering me with these numbers, and it’s the amount of foam that’s going to be sitting in a landfill for the next 300 years,” Mr. Davis said. “You’re weighing the purchase of foreign-made products versus three dishwashers.”

Mr. Davis also asked if increased trash costs were taken into consideration.

Mr. Graveline said that after speaking with other districts using disposable products, he doesn’t expect there to be that much of an increase in garbage, noting the students stack the trays before their disposal.

“It’s just a couple of bags,” he said.

Mr. Stone wondered whether unemployment costs had been accounted for, which they had not, with Superintendent Patrick H. Brady noting unemployment is “a short-term expense.”

“We have to look at what the total cost is going to be,” Mr. Brady said. “If it’s only a couple of thousand (in savings), I’m probably not going to support this.”

J. Patrick Turbett, who chairs the district’s finance committee, said he too would have a hard time dumping thousands of Styrofoam trays into landfills just to save a few bucks.

“Education is expensive, but even more expensive is ignorance,” he said. “If we have to pay more, maybe we should sometimes.”

Thomas W. Hobbs, who serves on the finance committee with Mr. Turbett, asked whether the positions would be inserted back into the budget for next year when the department’s finances might not be so bad.

Mr. Graveline said that wasn’t in his plans.

Business Manager Laura A. Hart said she’s projecting the food services department to break even next year, due in large part to BOCES aid it will receive since the director’s position is now shared with Parishville-Hopkinton.

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