FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence One Schools Superintendent Richard O'Malley said Friday that food-service employees won't lose their jobs if the district contracts with a private management service. O'Malley also responded Friday to criticism from a school board member made at a meeting Thursday night.
At the meeting, several people expressed their concerns that food-service workers would lose their jobs if a company took over food service management.
The school district has requested proposals from private companies.
In the request for proposals, which is available on the district website, the School Food Authority (SFA) says it would retain all employees currently on the SFA’s payroll. Those employees would also keep their benefits and retain retirement plans, according to O’Malley.
“We made sure that when I talked to the board about what we were doing that that would be an important part of what we wanted,” O’Malley said.
A request for proposal is a document that solicits proposals from potential suppliers of a commodity or service.
The management company would run the management of the food service, order food, run payroll and complete filing and paperwork.
O’Malley said the company would also make an investment in the schools’ kitchens, such as updating the ovens, and the company would be able to provide a progressive, nutritious menu for students.
“It’s not just throwing food out,” O’Malley said. “It’s actually thoughtful. These people do it for a living. We are in the business of school, not in food service. So here it’s about a job versus we could make it so much better.”
The district has been losing money each year for food services: $764,894 in 2016, $1,679,887 in 2017 and $298,425 in 2018, according to the 2016 and 2017 audits and the 2018 unaudited financial reports.
“It’s not just about a profit, but when you’re losing $1.6 million a year in food services, that’s not sustainable,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley said losing that much money is a problem for the district, and it’s his job to present a plan to fix the problem.
“That’s not the food-service worker’s problem,” O’Malley said. “That’s a management problem. If I know that, one question my board should ask me is what did you know, what did you do about it and when did you know it?”
The request for proposals was sent out on May 1, and they are due by May 24.
Also during the public participation portion of Thursday night's meeting, board member E.J. McIver accused O’Malley of being “remarkably secretive and uneven” with taxpayer dollars for technology in his previous school district. McIver based his accusations on a teacher from New Jersey named Tyler Van Pelt.
According to an article from The Courier News in New Jersey, that teacher was fired from the school district in 2015 for making inappropriate sexual comments in the school district’s public chat room during a training session, as well as referring to special education students as “bobo” and “short bus kids.”
O’Malley said Van Pelt was fired after a long record of misconduct, including drinking at a graduation ceremony.
O’Malley said the statements McIver made from Van Pelt read verbatim to those made in a blog the former Edison County Schools teacher made after being fired.
“I think you could use who Mr. McIver chooses to associate himself with that is the type of person, and as he said last night that I was ruthless … I will continue to be ruthless on behalf of children and stand with those kids instead of the adults that Mr. McIver is standing with,” O’Malley said.
School board Chairman Townsend also responded Friday to criticism from board member Alexis Pipkins, who spoke at the Thursday meeting and said Townsend should resign.
Townsend said this was not the first time Pipkins had done that. Townsend said it also happened when Randy Bridges was the superintendent. Bridges had the job before O'Malley.
“Change is difficult, and this is apparently what you have to deal with when you do the right thing for students,” Townsend said.
Before the start of the board meeting, Pipkins filed a complaint with the police about a verbal altercation with Townsend.
Townsend said the incident occurred as he walked over to the Poynor building to restart the meeting. The meeting was moved from its regular site to Poynor because of the size of the crowd.
“Unfortunately his outrageously inappropriate comment, just days before Mother’s Day, demeaning me for putting my career aside and moving back to Florence to help my father look after my late mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, got what he wanted, for me to raise my voice so he could get on the news,” Townsend said.
Townsend said he regrets allowing himself to be baited by Pipkins.
“As the officer explained it to me, he was required to file the report because Pipkins demanded it, not because it warranted it,” Townsend said. “Despite the incident, I treated Mr. Pipkins with far more respect during the subsequent meeting than he showed the superintendent.”