Chatham ponders bus costs and snack revenues

CHATHAM – At a special meeting this week the school board reviewed department budget proposals and heard about adding electives. District Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said that the board will present a proposed school budget at the March 8 meeting and will then begin discussing the overall budget with community groups.

Ms. Nuciforo introduced the board to Chuck Snyder, the district’s interim business administrator. He replaces Diane Malecki, who resigned last month. Mr. Snyder will stay in the position until June 30.

The board discussed the transportation budget at the Tuesday, March 1 meeting. Transportation director Steve Oleynek said his department budgeted $180,000 for gas and diesel fuel costs for this school year but may need $270,000 for next year. “This winter was tough,” he said of the use of the bus fleet and staff. He hopes to trade in two larger buses for one replacement bus. “You’re talking about 13-year-old buses,” said Mr. Oleynek of the vehicles he plans to trade-in.

Ms. Nuciforo said that the district went to a one-bell busing system in 2009, which means the fleet of buses makes one run instead of staggered times for older and younger students. As a result, the district does not need as many buses. She also said she still hears from people that the school buses look empty.

Mr. Oleynek did a ridership report for the board, and Ms. Nuciforo said that students riding the bus are counted every morning and every afternoon. Mr. Oleynek said that they are looking into cancelling two routes, but no decisions have been made.

The board also heard from Barbara Murray, the food service supervisor, about her staffing and about ideas she has to find revenue. Ms. Murray said that according to new state and federal food guidelines there will be grants available to buy more local produce and organic food for the cafeteria. She also sad that district now has to provide a water fountain or water-coolers in the cafeteria.

Ms. Murray talked about revenue from the school’s vending machines, which are currently being stocked by a private company, with the district only receiving about 8% from the sales. She said the district owns two vending machines that are currently empty but can be run by the school. She also mentioned using companies like Pepsi, which give more of the profit on vending machines to the school. Ms. Murray told the board the district could make $10,000 to $15,000 in revenue on the machines.

The board heard from several teachers about adding electives. Among the courses under consideration are a sports and entertainment marketing in the Business Department, a gourmet cooking class in the family and consumer sciences program, and two new electives in the English Department: women and literature, and multi-cultural literature. Most of the new programs could be added with little or no extra costs to the district. They would use existing materials and teaching staff, though new books would have to be bought in the Business Department and groceries for gourmet class.

Elementary school Principal Kristen Reno asked the board use funding from the Chatham Education Foundation to support a $2,400 pre-school literacy program she currently conducts for children between the ages of 2 and 4. Ms. Reno said that she would like to come to board with a proposal for a universal pre-K but understands that in these economic times that was asking too much.

The literacy program is available to about 16 to 20 pre-school students in the district who sign up, no matter their family’s income. But Ms. Reno hopes to target students form non-English speaking families and students with limited access to books.

The board will meet again next Tuesday, March 8 at 6:30pm to discuss budget figures. The district has launched a new website with agendas and notes form passed board meetings at www.chathamcentralschools.com.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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