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School district apparently eyeing food management service

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Bill Fritcher representing Opaa! Food Management said they provide both hot and cold entrees, and schools can tailor offerings to meet their needs and budgets.

Representatives of a food management company pitched their vision for reshaping school lunch and breakfast offerings at Community Unit School District 7 schools during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education. Later, however, the head cook at BenGil Elementary School expressed doubts about what the company promised to deliver. “They make it sound like it’s all a gravy train,” said Jackie McKinney. “It’s not.”

No action followed a 20-minute presentation by Bill Fritcher, Business Development Associate, and Angie Eden, a food service worker, from Opaa! Food Management, Inc., Chesterfield, Mo. There was no clear indication whether the board or district administration is leaning toward contracting with the company.

Founded in 1978, Opaa! Provides food management services to more than 800 schools in 250 school districts spread out over seven states. The company serves 21 schools in Illinois, including the nearby Staunton, Litchfield, Jersey and Nokomis school districts. The company claims a 97 percent retention rate among its client schools.

Fritcher, a former administrator in the Neoga school district, said the company emphasizes home-cooked foods made from scratch. Opaa! provides both hot and cold entrees, and schools can tailor offerings to meet their needs and budgets. Hot entrees include items such as roast turkey, meatloaf, cheeseburgers, pizzas and spaghetti. The company also serves a variety of cold sub sandwiches. Again, depending upon the details of its contract with a school district, the company can provide a salad bar, along with fresh fruit.

Breakfast offerings can include hot or cold cereal, waffles, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast burritos. Some client schools offer a “breakfast on the go” option where students can grab a breakfast item during the mid-morning hours of the school day. As part of its service, Opaa! would provide an all-day “Gulp Station” with dispensers of lemonade, iced tea and water.

“There’s a lot of local control over menu items,” Fritcher said. “If a school doesn’t want us serving coffee to students, we don’t serve coffee.”

Fritcher said the school district would continue to set pricing for school lunches and breakfasts, collect payments and control the revenue stream. The district also would continue to own food service equipment and facilities. At a minimum, Opaa! would place it’s own employee as a food service manager, but other food service workers can be either Opaa! employees or employees of the school district. In either case, the school district would have final say over who is allowed to work in the school district.

“You’d have control of who is working in the school and is around your kids,” Fritcher said.

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According to Fritcher, the company emphasizes presentation.

 “We want the food to look good so kids will eat it,” he said. “We strive to make it enjoyable for the kids.”

Client schools submit photos of daily offerings to the home office for approval, Eden said. As an example, she cited an instance when she submitted a photo from Neoga that included broccoli as a side item. The home office said the broccoli looked too brown and demanded it be replaced with fresher produce.

Fritcher said the company employees an executive chef to create recipes and standards for food served to students. The chef has created a number of streaming videos used to train on site staff.

Key to the operation is a computer program for food management. Eden said the program monitors what food the district has in the freezer and pantry, and adjust menus to best utilize resources on hand. The program also provides a portal parents and students can access to see weekly menus.

A food management contract would be subject to state bidding requirements, according to Fritcher. To start the process, the district would create a Request for Proposals to solicit bids. If Opaa! Is the successful bidder, the company would offer a five-year fixed price agreement, renewable on an annual basis. Either party would be able to end the contract upon a 90-day notice.

During a public comment period, McKinney alleged Opaa!’s promises have not matched reality in nearby school districts. The head cook at Litchfield, she pointed out, quit soon after Opaa! took over. Pizzas and some other food items, she said, do not match the company’s claims.

“We were told this is not about the money, it’s about the choices,” she said. “If you want more options, someone needs to tell us.”

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McKinney said she has been employed by the district in food services since 2002. The proposal to hire an outside food management company, she said, comes as “a slap in the face.”

McKinney predicted problems if the district contracts with Opaa!, particularly in the elementary school.

“I don’t see how our kindergarteners are going to be able to carry their own tray and serve themselves,” she said. “They’re going to drop their trays. We get our kids through the serving line in five minutes so they have time to sit down and eat. When they have to make their own tray, how long do you think that’s going to take?”

McKinney also predicted issues with food sanitation when young children with runny noses and/or dirty hands are expected to serve themselves from the food line.

During a public comment period, Jackie McKinney, head cook at BenGil Elementary, alleged Opaa!’s promises have not matched reality in nearby school districts.

McKinney said an outside company cannot be expected to know local students like local food service workers know them.

“I watch for a little boy who comes through my line every day because I know he doesn’t get food at home like he does here,” she said. “We’re here for the kids and I don’t think these people are.”

In a somewhat related matter which could facilitate transitioning to an outside food service, the board accepted with “regret” the retirements of head high school/middle school cook Penny Feeley and GHS/GMS cook Janice Hammann, both effective on June 30.

PERSONNEL

The board took action on a number of personnel issues following an executive session of about one hour.

In separate actions, the board voted unanimously to rehire the following fourth-year teachers and grant them tenure for the 2024-25 school year: Nikki Jenner, Katie Lievers, Alex Newton, Pete Visintin and Jacob West.

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The following non-tenured staff were hired for the 2024-25 school year: school nurse Rachel Bouillon, fifth grade teacher Radeana Gentzyel, speech pathologist Kaylee Collins, special education teacher Jaiden Braundmeier, kindergarten teacher Jessica Yeager, fist grade teacher Sydney Owsley, band teacher Brad Taulbee, chorus teacher Ben McCullough, Tim Biggs, special education teacher Cory Bonstead, and Dalton Barnes.

On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Mark Hayes, the board rehired the following tenured teachers for 2024-25: Lorraine Strutner, Jody Dunn, Melissa Bussmann, Tracy Hostettler, Darrick Urban, Kara Saracco, Kelly Lyons, Holly Nejmanowski, Jennifer Parker, Anastasia Hobaugh, Cate Plovich, Amy Price, Nickie Barrett, Jessi Luketich, Mindy Savant, Karissa Smith, Beth Sees, Valerie Jubelt, Carrie Scott, Dana Tieman, Marcia Johns, Colleen Favre, Celia Jubelt, Jamie Schmidt, Nancy Schmidt, Lori Emmons, Vanessa Barrett, Amy Geddes, Lisa Ballinger, Amber Allan, Kim Henderson, Christina Blevins, Chase Peterson, Jessica Kelly, Tammy Garde, Nate Heinrich’s, Casey Edgerton, Kyle Lamar, Stephanie Wilson, Elizabeth Thackery, Shanna Conner, Matthew Browner, Jeremy Smith, Rachelle Prough, Jarrod Herron, Jill Stole, Korben Clark, Kayla Wills, Nikki Browner, Kevin McNichols, Katie Orange, Robert Macias, Casey Sholtis, Jennifer Brown, Jeff Nelhs, Mark Goldasich, Troy Barker, Michelle Smith, Holley McFarland, Michael Bertagnolli, Mary Schuette, Nichole Stoecker, Amy Goldasich, David Edgerton, Ashlee Gibbs, Stuart Ringer, Kelly Bully, Whitney Page and Stephanie Bray.

The board accepted “with regret” the retirement of BenGil Elementary teacher Dana Tieman, effective at the end of the 2027-28 school year. The board also accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of GMS paraprofessional  Ella May Roemer, effective at the end of the 2024 fiscal year, and posted the position as vacant.

Board members accepted the resignation of high school paraprofessional Darian Gill, and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted Gill’s resignation at the GHS/GMS cheerleading coach and posted that position as vacant.

Board members unanimously agreed to post vacancies for the following summer school positions: high school math, English and drivers’ education; middle school math, English and science; and six elementary positions. Additionally, the board posted two summer school food service positions.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation of long-time GHS head women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted the resignation of Korbin Clark as GMS seventh-grade basketball coach and posted the position as vacant.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Elizabeth Eaker as a volunteer assistant dance coach, pending verification of certification and a background check. In separate actions, the board agreed to appoint Foley Seferi and James Bryant a volunteer assistant high school football coaches, pending verification of certification and a background check. 

By a unanimous vote, the board accepted the resignation of district custodian Owen Parker, and posted the position as vacant. The board also voted to post vacancies for two full-route bus drivers for the 2024-25 school year, and hired Billie Bowles as a substitute bus driver, pending verification of certification and a background check.

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REPAVING

The board awarded a $62,524 contract to DeLaurent Construction Co., Inc., Wilsonville, to repave five district parking lots. DeLaurent was the low bidder for the project. The contract will be paid from proceeds of a $1.6 million alternate revenue bond sale for capital projects.

Supt. Shane Owsley reported that he is starting to gather estimates for other upcoming projects to be underwritten with bond revenue, including a project to refinish the high school gym floor, a project to reline the all-weather track and a major HVAC project.

SURPLUS WEIGHT ROOM EQUIPMENT

On Owsley’s recommendation, the board accepted a list of surplus weight room equipment and agreed to offer the equipment for sale via sealed bids. The equipment, which includes stationary bikes, running machines, free weights, benches, dumbbells and racks, was replaced with new equipment as part of a recently completed project to renovate and re-equip the weight room.

EARLY GRADUATION REQUESTS

During a District Focus segment, the board recognized high school women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, who is retiring after a career of 16 seasons. Kevin is pictured with his wife, Elaine.

On a motion by Bill Carter, seconded by Weye Schmidt, the board unanimously approved early graduation requests for Maria Alger, Eliana Barrios-Madison, Owen Baugh, Gage Bonds, Abby Carter, John Q. Halterman, Eva Hidden, Felicia Lambert, Emma Luckshis, Ashley Markulakis, McKenna Montoro, Kaden Reiffer, Abigail Sharp, Jayden Stangle, Cooper Wentler, Ashton Whitlow and Avery Young. The students will be allowed to graduate at the end of their eleventh year of high school at the end of the current school year, provided all graduation requirements have been met.

DISTRICT FOCUS

During a District Focus segment, the board recognized high school women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, who is retiring after a career of 16 seasons. High School Principal Jill Rosentreter noted that Gray led this year’s team to the Sectional Tournament in Beardstown after winning their first regional championship since 2012. The team also won its first County Tournament since 2002, and celebrated 26 wins—the most ever.

During the Carlinville Rotary’s All-Star Game, Gray was named Rotary’s Coach of the Year.

“On behalf of CUSD 7 and all you former players, we express much gratitude for your many years of service, dedication, leadership, wisdom and professional demeanor on and off the court,” Rosentreter told Gray.

Also during the District Focus, a group of fifth graders told the board about their recent field trip to Busch Stadium, where they learned about practical math applications and other subjects.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the board:

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  • Gave final approval to the 2024-25 school calendar, calling for the first day of school attendance on Aug. 14 with the last day of school set for May 29, or earlier if no emergency days are used.
  • Approved a schedule of board meeting dates for the coming year. The board will meet in executive session at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month with the open session beginning at 7 p.m. The December meeting is set one week earlier on Dec. 16 to avoid conflict with the winter break.
  • Awarded the annual bid to supply fuel to low bidder M & M Service Co., Carlinville.
  • Voted to renew the district’s annual membership in the Illinois High School Association.
  • Rescheduled the April board meeting from Monday, April 22, to Tuesday, April 23, to avoid a conflict.

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Court News

Macoupin County Courthouse News

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Cases filed during July 7 through July 13. Visit the “Court News” category under the “Community News” tab for other editions.

FELONIES

Timothy D. Conlee, 29 of Gillespie, is charged with aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer, driving on a suspended license, and reckless driving in connection with a July 6 incident.

Dylan J. Arview, 25 of Benld, is charged with driving under the influence while license revoked or suspending, DUI, driving on a suspended license and driving 15-20 mph above the limit in connection with a July 5 incident.

Bobby L. Walker, 35 of Sorento, is charged with driving revoked/suspended with a DUI, driving on revoked license, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, displayed registration plate, and expired registration in connection with a June 27 incident.

Dustin W. Gooch, 34 of Beecher City, is charged with aggravated fleeing/bodily injury, unlawful display of a title, improper use of registration/title, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, and registration light in connection with a June 17 incident.

MISDEMEANORS

Jordan A. Black, 24 of Gillespie, is charged with battery/causing bodily harm in connection with a July 8 incident.

Dustin R. Stieglitz, 37 of Shipman, is charged with aggravated assault/use of a deadly weapon in connection to a June 29 incident.

Steven A. Kroll, 33 of Eagarville, is charged with resisting a peace officer, fire fighter, or corrections employee in connection with a June 26 incident.

TRAFFIC

David B. Brown, 58 of Virden, is charged with cancelled/revoked/suspended registration in connection with a July 3 incident.

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Jennifer L. Roberts, 47 of Worden, is charged with driving on a suspended license and operating an uninsured motor vehicle in connection with July 5 incident.

Andrew L. Connoyer, 31 of Bethalto, is charged with improper use of registration, driving 15-20 mph above the limit, and no valid registration in connection with July 7 incident.

Megan E. Bertoldi, 37 of Gillespie, is charged with leaving the scene in connection with July 11 incident.

DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE FILED

  • Tasha McQuay versus David McQuay

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School board disciplines staff member; hires AD and Student Services Coordinator

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In a relatively brief meeting Monday night, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education approved a “resolution of remedial warning” against an unidentified district teacher, and hired a new Student Services Coordinator and Athletic Director.

The actions followed an 80-minute executive session during which board members presumably primarily discussed personnel issues. The regular monthly meeting of the board was moved up by one week to fill key positions, such as the Athletic Director and Student Services Coordinator, prior to the start of the school year next month. The district was taken by surprise when former Student Services Coordinator Stephanie Bray and Athletic Director Mike Bertagnolli both announced their retirements within days of each other.

Supt. Shane Owsley said the resolution of remedial warning is a disciplinary action representing “a second strike, so to speak.” Neither the teacher or the nature of the infraction was disclosed in open session.

In other action, the board, voted unanimously to hire Shelsie Timmermeier as the district’s Student Services Coordinator for the 2024-25 school year, stepping into the vacancy created by Bray’s retirement, pending confirmation of certification and a background check. In a separate action, the board also appointed Timmermeier as an assistant high school women’s volleyball coach.

Jeremy Smith was hired, also by a unanimous vote, as the district’s Athletic Director for the 2024-25 school year. In a related matter, Smith’s resignation as middle school head baseball coach was accepted. Additionally, the board posted the coaching position as vacant for the coming school year.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Dennis Tiburzi, the board hired Alex Jasper as a high school social science teacher for the coming school year. The board also voted unanimously to hire Tate Wargo as a first-year, non-tenured physical education instructor, pending confirmation of certification. Both positions were vacated as a result of the sudden resignation of Dalton Barnes in April as head football coach, physical education teacher and social science teacher. 

In related matters, the board also hired Wargo Monday night as an eighth grade boy’s basketball coach, and accepted Jasper’s resignation as a district paraprofessional and posted the position as vacant.

In other personnel action, the board:

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  • Hired Amanda Ewin as a one-on-one aide.
  • Hired Anthony Kravanya as a freshman men’s basketball coach.
  • Appointed Melissa Heigert as a volunteer assistant high school softball coach.

In other action, the board gave routine approval to a list of policies provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. 

Supt. Owsley also provided a brief update on the progress being made on safety projects expected to be completed before the start of the school year, including installation of a new intercom system, a card-reader entry system and shatter-proof protective film on exterior windows.

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Gillespie Library, United Community Bank to host Fraud and Scam Prevention seminar on July 22

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Gillespie Public Library (Photo by Gillespie Public Library)

Friends of the Gillespie Public Library and United Community Bank are hosting a joint “Fraud and Scam Prevention” seminar at on Monday, July 22 starting at 6 p.m. at the Gillespie Public Library.

The seminar will focus on today’s common scams and frauds, which includes imposter and check scams, money mule fraud and those that target seniors. Presenters will be Jenni Alepra of Gillespie UCB and Kennen Bertolis of Carlinville UCB.

The seminar is open to the public and is free of charge. For additional questions, call the Gillespie Public Library at 217-839-3614.

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