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School Committee hears solutions to state, federal mandates

Date: 11/29/2011

Nov. 30, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

AGAWAM — Lunch prices must go up, and schools must get moving on implementing the state-mandated Common Core curriculum standards, according to information presented to the School Committee at its Nov. 22 meeting.

Agawam Public Schools Director of Finance and Human Resources Patricia Cavanaugh and Joseph Lecuyer, director of Food Services, presented a request for the committee to consider a three-phase increase in the price of hot lunch at the town’s schools. This, they said, is necessary to bring the cost in line with the federal free meal reimbursement.

“By federal mandate, the price must not be less than the reimbursable price of $2.43,” Cavanaugh explained.

Documents provided to the School Committee explained that under Section 205 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must move to raise the price of their school lunches to close the gap between federal reimbursement for the meal and the price paid for non-supported meals.

According to the documents, the town has up to five years to bring lunch prices into parity to meet federal requirements.

Currently, elementary and middle school students pay $1.75 for hot lunch; junior high and high school students pay $2.

Cavanaugh said the school department is proposing a 25-cent across the board increase in lunch prices beginning Jan. 1, 2012. That would be followed by a 10-cent increase on Sept. 1, 2012, and an additional 15-cent increase on Sept. 1, 2013 to “bring the price in line to be where it should be.”

School Committee member Diane Juzba questioned why the School Department didn’t request the price increase before the start of the school year.

“It should have come up during the summer,” Cavanaugh said. “But we weren’t certain how much we needed to ask for.”

She added that the requested price increase takes into account both the need to eventually match the federal reimbursement and new menu requirements, also part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, to begin including more whole grains and healthier choices, which are often more expensive than current offerings, in school lunch menus.

The committee is expected to vote on the lunch increase at its Dec. 13 meeting.

The committee also heard a request from Agawam Public Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Allison LeClair to suspend committee rules and vote that night on a job description for Common Core Facilitator positions in the town’s public schools. The school administration, she explained, is looking to hire 14 such facilitators from within its current teaching staff to assist schools in integrating the new state-mandated Common Core standards with the district’s current curriculum.

LeClair said the part-time positions, which would have facilitators working after school or on nights and/or weekends, would pay a stipend of $2,500. Funding would come from a Race to the Top grant the district has received.

School Committee member Linda Galarneau asked if the facilitator job was “mandated by the state.” LeClair said it was not, but because Agawam is the only school district in the state without department heads, it was necessary to find a way to organize and direct groups of educators to work on Common Core implementation.

“We need to move [on this],” LeClair said of the Common Core implementation. “This needs to be in place by next fall.”

Information provided by LeClair and Sapelli during the meeting indicated that, though the state has not released guidelines for Common Core implementation as of yet, it has stipulated that schools must have the new standards in place by the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

Acting Superintendent of Schools William Sapelli said the department needed to have the facilitators in place by early January 2012 to allow enough time for teachers and administrators to integrate the new Common Core mandates.

School Committee member Anthony Bonavita said he felt he needed more information about what the Common Core standards entail, and how the facilitators would work with teachers to implement them, before he could vote to approve a job description.

“During the last campaign people questioned a lot of positions, including [LeClair’s],” Bonavita said. “Now you’re saying we need extra people to do this.”

He said he felt the school department needed to provide a workshop “to educate the public about Common Core” and also to educate committee members. He asked for the issue to be tabled until the school department could provide a workshop on the subject. The committee voted to approve his request.

School Committee member Roberta Doering also requested that LeClair provide “a timeline [for the project], what people are needed, what they are going to do and when – in school or before or after – what they are going to be paid and how,” before the committee considers approving the facilitator job description.

Debbie Gardner can be reached by e-mail at

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