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Halifax County Trustees consider food service contract / February 27, 2014

As it considers whether to turn over cafereria operations to a professionally-managed food service company, the Halifax County School Board is offering reassurances to employees: no one will be fired if the change occurs.

Food service was among the chief topics of discussion Monday among trustees, who also took up maintenance and budget matters during a special session in Halifax.

Trustees voted to send a request for proposal (RFP) to the state education department for approval, a required step before the school division can solicit proposals from food service companies that may want to take over school cafeteria operations.

The idea is one which several trustees have heard touted at statewide school board association meetings. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon explained that Halifax County cannot invite companies that offer professionally managed food services to present their proposals until the school system has submitted a copy of its RFP (which runs 41 pages) to the State Board of Education, which must give approval to solicit offers.

The proposed RFP clearly states that “current food service employees will be employed by the Halifax County Public Schools.” That message was reinforced by school trustees, who said that should a professionally managed food service company be contracted, school employees would still have their jobs — no one would be fired.

Also included in the RFP is a statement that “the food service provided (by a contractor) shall be operated and maintained as a benefit to the school system’s students, faculty and staff and not as a source of profit for the contractor.”

Also at the meeting, trustees approved a $9,500 contract with Robert Bouknight of RKB Engineering of Greensboro, N.C. to prepare an upgrade of the high school HVAC system, which has been a source of concern ever since the HCHS mold scare in the summer and fall.

Bouknight’s proposal calls for adding air conditioning to offices and classrooms located on the ground level of the C wing, where currently there is no air conditioning, as well as adding cooling and dehumidifiers to girls and boys locker rooms.

The plan also calls for three other upgrades: adding a hot water reset control valve to the boiler central piping system, adding CO2 sensors to the AHU control system and replacing the damper system in the AHU equipment.

Bouknight said he will begin advance preparations for some of the work immediately; with other items, work cannot proceed until school is out.

However, he said he expects to complete the work before school opens in August.

Trustees also heard a report from director of transportation Dave Guill, who advised that since the school system uses less than 500,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel annually, it does not have to put out either purchase for bids.

Guill explained that the school system could seek bids if trustees so desire or they might decide to continue buying fuel just as they currently do on a “rack-margin system.” That means that the school buys fuel at the current market price, plus cost of delivery (the school does not have to pay the state tax on gas).

Trustees voted to continue the rack margin buying practice rather than locking themselves into a fixed bid price, which can be higher or lower than the market average. Another factor in the decision is the fact that six of the outlying school tanks are owned by the company that supplies fuel to the schools.

Touching on another item on the agenda, Herndon advised trustees that she has discussed the possibility of consolidating school employees’ health insurance policies with those of county employees.

With 780 school employees participating in a group insurance plan, compared to only 188 from the county, Herndon said the school division would likely see little budgetary benefit from consolidation.

However, Herndon said she felt it is important to have the School Board and the Board of Supervisors working together to save money in any way possible. She told trustees that she would revisit the matter at a later date as both the School Board and Board of Supervisors approach deadlines for renewing their policies.

On the budget, the School Board continues to deal with mere preliminary numbers as the outcome of budget deliberations in Richmond remains up in the air. Herndon said she has received projected numbers for state educational funding from the House of Delegates and from the state Senate, with nothing yet heard from the administration of new Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Both legislative chambers have projected an overall state contribution of around $34 million, with the Senate budget higher by about $200,000. Final state funding also will depend on the ADM (average daily membership) of Halifax County public school students on March 31.

“I’ve been told that we may not have the final figure until June,” Herndon told trustees Monday.

At matters now stand, the School Board is looking at a substantial budget shortfall. The trustees have requested $16.6 million in local funding — some $3.3 million more than the $13,377, 529 received last year — while the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee has recommended the same level of funding as last year.

Herndon listed some twelve items the School Board could consider trimming in the upcoming year’s budget if funds are not available.

Trustees made no response to the listed items, saying only that they will consider where the cuts must come at a later time after they have more information.

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