April 19, 2010

Food service company, foundation check major AISD items

Robby Robertson The Athens Review ATHENS —


A new food service management company and a $10,700 check from the newly-formed Athens Public Education Foundation were top items approved by the Athens Independent School Board Thursday.


The Athens Public Education Foundation got its start in December of 2007. President Charles Tidmore attended a graduation ceremony at Texas A&M University that was followed with an induction of the graduates into the school’s alumni foundation.


Tidmore said that at the time the Athens class of 1968 was working on plans for its reunion in 2008. He thought it would be helpful if Athens High School had a similar organization that could keep up with members of all the classes, and help with reunions and other events, and serve the school in other ways.


He talked with Conor Bateman, Ervin Jenkins, and Tere Lawyer about an Athens-based foundation.


Tidmore told the school board that the foundation’s goal is to help provide teachers with the necessary funds for tools they will need in providing a great education.


“Over the past few months, we have had our inaugural fundraising event, along with some very spontaneous donations from people around town,” Tidmore said. “We are seeing that this is an effort very well received in our community.”


The foundation is set up as a 501(c)3, only one of 300 in the state, according to Tidmore. Other foundations like this are in Bullard, Van, Tyler and Corsicana, just to name a few.


“Our first grant cycle was just a couple of months ago,” he said. “We went to the schools and put out the word about the grants. We received some applications. We looked through them all, and made our decisions.”


Athens graduate Blake Armstrong, now an attorney in Tyler, had served on the Tyler Independent School District foundation, and shared that knowledge in the information-gathering phase of the process.


Bateman contacted the UIL in Austin, and existing foundations in other communities to learn about the steps necessary to form a foundation in Athens.


The group traveled to Hutto, near Austin, to meet with officers of that community’s foundation.


The board approved the funds unanimously.


“We are very excited about this group,” AISD Superintendent Dr. Fred Hayes said. “I think it is really exciting what this group is doing to help better the education of our students.”


The school board also made the decision to outsource its food service to the Chartwells Schools Dining Service. The company is a subsidiary of Compass Group PLC, which has over 386,000 employees in 50 different countries.


The Athens ISD administrative staff decided to consider outsourcing its food service after observing weaknesses in the areas of students not being served quality meals across the board, lack of appealing presentation of meals and not enough nutrition, just to name a few of the issues.


“We are educators, and not food people, but we want our kids to have the best nutrition we could provide for them,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Green said. “When we started looking at other schools, and how they handled their food service, we felt like this was the way to go, because they handle almost everything.”


With Chartwells, a new attitude of food service will be introduced to AISD. Not only will the cafeterias be revamped and revised, so will the workers and the training.


AISD food service employees with less than five years of employment will become employees of Chartwells. Because of TRS (Teacher Retirement Service), employees with over five years will have the choice to become employees of Chartwells or stay with AISD. “We want all of you to know that no one will lose their job unless they decide to terminate it,” Keith Robinson, of Chartwells told the school board. “Not only will they not lose their jobs, they will have even more benefits than what the school might have available.”


In the 5-year plan, the district is looking at a profit of $103,491 per year. With that comes a nutritionist, a chef, new training, and new and exciting menus.


“This is something the district has looked at for several years,” AISD Chief Financial Officer Randy Jones said. “If you look all around us, everyone from Mabank to Corsicana and Palestine are using this service.”


Chartwells will invest $2,500 per year in guaranteed enrichment funds that can be applied to help further high school students’ desire to advance their careers. They will also work with the district to help establish a monitoring program for the culinary arts.


At the high school levels, Chartwells will have at least six concepts and four entrees at the middle school. There will be everything from Deli items to Grab a Sack and Go, to Crust & Stuff, just to name a few.


“We are very excited abut this new concept, and we know our students are going to be better off for it,” Hayes said.