CUSD board OKs sub pay contract, kitchen re-do - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD board OKs sub pay contract, kitchen re-do

May 22nd, 2022 SanTan Sun News
CUSD board OKs sub pay contract, kitchen re-do

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

During the end of 2021, Chandler Unified School District had a substitute teacher problem. With graduations coming at the end of the month, it is no longer an issue.

The CUSD Governing Board authorized spending an additional $3 million May 11 to address that problem.

The board approved increasing the contract with Educational Services, Inc. (ESI) from $5.5 million to $8.5 million. Lana Berry, the district’s chief financial officer, said that amount covers all the increased costs incurred during this school year.

“This year, with COVID, we had a number of absences due to illness, and so we used more subs,” Berry said. “We also increased the rate during that period of time to try and attract more subs to come to our school district.”

In January, the Governing Board increased substitute teacher pay from $115 to $145 a day, relying on ESI to do the recruiting.

Those steps worked and helped the district get through a period of high absences.

“We were pretty high January through March, but since then our numbers have been back to normal,” said Dr. Wendy Nance, assistant superintendent in charge of human resources.

At one point during the winter, 600 teachers and staff called out sick. Still, Nance said ESI was able to recruit enough substitute teachers that they were able to weather the storm.

“We blasted out to all of our current substitutes and the people they knew who were interested, or the people in their front offices that had the certification but may be in a different type of job, and we helped them access their substitute certificates and seemed to get them on board pretty quick.”

In other business, the Governing Board approved spending more than $4.4 million to rebuild the district’s main kitchen facility.

The building was constructed in the early 1990s and was meant to serve about a third of the estimated 40,000 meals they make each day now. The kitchen equipment has reached its end of life estimate.

CUSD plans to begin demolition later this month once schools let out and get the building ready for major equipment upgrades. The entire cost for construction and new equipment is estimated to be about $7 million.

Construction will extend into the new school year. The kitchen staff will have limited access to the building, mostly to its large storage freezer. Most of the cooking for district schools will be done at a number of different schools instead of in the centralized location.

Tom Dunn, the district’s director of construction, said he hopes the kitchen staff can return to their main kitchen in late December or early January. He said the project would probably not be completed until next summer when they expect the arrival of a natural gas generator.

The board also approved spending about $3.7 million to improve the kitchen and lunch room seating at Hamilton High School. Currently, there is room for only 320 students to eat in the lunch room. About 1,280 students eat lunch at the same time.

After the changes, the lunch room should seat about 936. The district plans to enclose the outdoor seating area and remove some raised seating area to create the additional space.

It also plans to improve security access to the high school.

The second phase of the renovation, which has not been funded yet, would include upgrading kitchen equipment and improving efficiency.

The board also approved the final phase of upgrading playground equipment, agreeing to spend $4.7 million to improve it at schools that opened in 2005 or later.

All the schools that opened before 2005 have already had their equipment upgraded.

The schools getting the upgrade this time are Carlson Elementary, CTA Freedom, CTA Independence, Fulton, Haley, Hancock Navarrete, Patterson, Riggs, Ryan and San Marco elementary schools.

The Chandler Unified School District is doing a lot of extra baking this spring as it prepares for a seven-month closing of its central kitchen starting in June.

“This facility was built in 1992 and it really hasn’t been updated since then in any shape or form,” said Jenny Bracamonte, the school district’s director of food and nutrition. “Much of our equipment is at end of life.”

The CUSD Governing Board recently approved spending about $82,000 to purchase a new industrial meat slicer and a unifiller – a device that allows them to package large quantities of product (dressing, salsa, etc.) in whatever containers they need.

Bracamonte said they will begin removing the older equipment and taking out the flooring in June. She said the plan is for upgrades to the building and the new equipment to be installed by December. She expects the total cost to replace the kitchen equipment to come to $1.7 million.

“We are updating this facility to where the district is now,” Bracamonte said. “When this facility was built, we had like 12 schools. And now we have 47. Our meals per day, I can’t give you accurate figures from back then, but I would say probably between 7,000-to-10,000 meals a day, and now we do 40,000 meals a day.”

They started baking early for the next school year, beginning mainly with muffins in March.

“We want to continue to deliver to our kids the experience that they’re used to,” Bracamonte said. “A part of that is scratch-baking, and homemade sauces, so we’re trying to get ahead of that production a little bit.”

She said they are making 15,000 muffins a day, hoping to build a surplus of at least 200,000. But it’s not just muffins that they are making now for next fall. Bracamonte said they’re also making smoothie mix, marinara sauce, and taco meat.

“Things that we normally make in our kettle or bakery will totally be fine if they’re frozen for six months,” she said.

She said staff and students will have to adjust because of the central kitchen closure. For example, now Bracamonte’s department makes their own ranch dressing. Next fall they will likely use ranch dressing purchased from a vendor.

Bracamonte said none of the current central kitchen employees will lose time at work because of the improvements. Instead of coming to the central kitchen, most will work out of the kitchens at individual schools. That’s where a lot of the work preparing food for school children will shift while the new equipment is installed.

The central kitchen facility will still be available because the large freezer is located there. That’s where most of the muffins they’re making now will be stored.

“Chandler is blessed to have this facility, because many districts don’t have the storage that we do,” Bracamonte said.

Some of the new equipment should improve efficiency. Instead of a worker filling in cupcake batter one at a time, a machine will do multiple muffins at the same time. Instead of a worker spreading sauce on the 1,500 pizzas they make every week, they’ll have a machine that does that.

Bracamonte said the automation won’t lead to any job loss, it will just allow them to repurpose employees to other roles.

“It’s a whole new day in food service,” Bracamonte said.