Crawford Central approves food services contract and more

Apr. 25—VERNON TOWNSHIP — Crawford Central School Board approved a $2.2 million food services management contract at its Monday meeting while also raising the pay rate for substitute paraprofessionals and approving other spending.

The food services contract with The Nutrition Group guarantees the district more than $273,000 in profits for the 2024-25 school year, according to the information provided by the district, and comes with up to four one-year renewals.

The Irwin-based Nutrition Group was the only bidder for the contract, a fact that was acknowledged by Katie Baldwin, a regional manager with the company who gave a presentation on plans for next year during the board's April 15 work session.

"We were uncontested. No other food service management companies came to bid on Crawford Central, which is great for us because it means no matter what, we get to stay," Baldwin said, "but we also want to earn our place here."

The food service budget is funded by federal and state reimbursements driven by student participation — the more students eating breakfast and lunch, the more the district receives in reimbursements to cover the cost of its food service management contract.

Projected participation rates for the current year of 41 percent for breakfast and 62 percent for lunch saw increases of 5 percent to 7 percent, according to Baldwin.

"That is absolutely fantastic gains," she said.

The 2024-2025 budget incorporates 5 percent increases for the cost of food and costs related to paper products and cleaning as well as a 3 percent increase for labor costs. The company's fees will also increase 3.4 percent, a rate determined by the Consumer Price Index.

Baldwin reminded board members that all students in the district are eligible for free breakfasts and lunches through the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, which is available for low-income districts. She also noted the company's efforts to keep things "fresh and trendy" for students. Earlier this month, a boba tea drink containing low-sugar lemonade was added to the menu. Boba tea drinks also typically contain tapioca pearls.

"The kids are loving it," Baldwin said of the addition.

Through the course of her presentation, she also noted several times that the company has been short staffed and is actively hiring.

The board also moved to address staffing concerns in another area: substitute paraprofessionals. Also referred to as classroom aides, teacher assistants, instructional aides or job coaches, paraprofessionals assist in providing instructional programs and services to children with disabilities or eligible young children, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

"We currently only have three to five substitute paraprofessionals," Superintendent Jenn Galdon told the board at the work session, "and they're very critical to the running of our district."

The board approved a 12 percent increase in the pay rate for the substitutes, bringing the hourly wage from $12.50 to $14. Galdon said the higher rate brings Crawford Central in line with other area districts.

The board also approved a contract with Woodring Detective Agency and Security Service LLC of Guys Mills to provide security at certain district events for the 2024-2025 school year. The agreement calls for the district to pay $24.50 per hour for each security officer with a three-hour minimum. The rate is up 13 percent from Woodring's rate of $21.75 per hour for 2020-21.

In contrast to the security and food service bids, Crawford Central received nine bids for various athletic supplies, though an additional 25 companies contacted by the district declined to bid. Splitting the awards between the various companies, the board approved spending nearly $75,000 on athletic supplies, with $41,000 — or 55 percent — going to Meadville Area Senior High programs and $34,000 going to Cochranton Junior-Senior High.

The various approvals were unanimous and came with little or no discussion before each vote.

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at