Column by Chris Graham
“I could understand it if somebody donated the lunches. Maybe that happened, I don’t know. But it just seems to me to send the wrong message. I mean, they’re facing a $2 million shortfall, $3 million, whatever, and they’re having a catered lunch? Something doesn’t add up there.”
The hot tip was called in to me on Friday – that the Waynesboro school system had served catered lunches to teachers and staff apparently across the city’s seven schools, which, if that was the case, would be a head-slapper of a dumb move for a school system that is indeed facing down pretty substantial budget cuts in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
I got in touch by e-mail with School Superintendent Robin Crowder, who quickly got back to me that he wasn’t aware of any school luncheons on Friday, and further explained that schools occasionally provide refreshments or lunches for staff on workdays and parent-teacher conference days.
A little later, I was contacted by Renae Deffenbaugh, the principal at Westwood Hills Elementary School, who identified her school as a host of a catered lunch on Friday. As Crowder had indicated, the lunch was related to a planned parent-teacher conference day, which had originally been on the schedule for Friday across the city school system.
With teachers expected to be on premises from 1-6 p.m. for the parent-teacher conferences, the move to provide lunches is a nod to the longer workday, according to Deffenbaugh.
Friday was supposed to be a half-school day, half-conference day, but the conference day was canceled due to the pressure put on the school system’s schedule from the recent run of winter weather that has forced numerous schoolday cancellations.
Deffenbaugh said the details of the lunch were arranged before the parent-teacher conferences had been canceled, and that when the word of the cancellation came down she called the caterer to cancel the catered lunch, but was told by the caterer that the food had already been ordered, and that the caterer would have to eat the cost of the ordered food if the lunch didn’t go on as scheduled.
My first instinct was to say that there was some smoke here, but no fire, no damage done, and upon reflection, I think my first instinct was right to a degree and wrong to a degree. On first glance, I think it’s laudable that the school didn’t expect the caterer to eat the cost of the ordered food once the parent-teacher conferences had been canceled, one, and two, I understand the thinking behind ordering lunches for staff on what is to be a longer-than-usual workday. It’s not out of sorts for companies big and small to do that kind of thing for their employees.
But on the other side of this, you can’t help but consider this in the context of the budget struggles being faced by the school system. And same as we’re all up in arms over bonuses being paid on Wall Street against a backdrop of a bailout, I think there is some justification to folks getting riled up over catered lunches, and I can’t explain it any better than the person who phoned in the tip to me that got me started down this line.
It just seems to send the wrong message, is all.