A change in policy at the school board level will mean the end of a long career for three women who work in the cafeteria at Elmira District Secondary School. Their abrupt dismissal has a number of students seeing red.
The school board has decided to make the switch from the independently-run cafeteria that has existed at EDSS for the past several decades to join other schools in the region that have hired a cafeteria services company, JC Vending. Along with the new menu items and equipment will come a new staff, leaving the three women who are currently employed there with the option of either transferring to another school farther away or retiring. Two of the three women have chosen to retire rather than make the long commute.
Senior students Emily Phillips and Sarah Charron got wind of the changes to be implemented in January when they overheard another student talking about the departure of the ladies from the cafeteria. They’ve decided to stand up against the plan to change to JC Vending.
“We started a student petition and we have 500 signatures so far,” said Charron. “If this goes through, three ladies will not be here and will be without jobs after the holiday. It’s not fair.”
The students have approached faculty and staff about the problem, receiving mixed responses.
“It’s kind of sad how it is working out,” said EDSS vice-principal Dave Conlon. “Cafeteria people become part of the family. I understand why the kids are upset.”
The Waterloo Region District School Board is one of the only school boards in the province which continues to operate their school cafeterias independently. Over the past few years, the school board has been gradually streamlining the cafeteria services into a more organized, efficient operation run by a single company, JC Vending. EDSS is one of only four schools in the region left to be changed over.
“We are in the business of education. We are not in the business of food services,” said Marilyn Marklevitz, Executive Superintendant of Business Services for the Waterloo Region District School Board. “We don’t have the expertise that people at cafeteria service companies have. With the new legal and health requirements being put in place, we thought it was a wise idea to go that route.”
The students however, do not see eye to eye with the school board on this issue. Their concerns range from doubting the quality of the food to worries about new pricing. Others are concerned with how the implementation of a new company will effect their food-related fundraisers.
“If we want to have a bake sale or a pizza day fundraiser, we are going to have to apply to the company and they will have to have it approved, every single time,” said Phillips. “And I have been talking to other students from other schools who use JC vending and they said that they absolutely hate the food. They said that on a scale of one to 10 for disgusting level, it’s an 11.”
Marklevitz said the ideas the students have about the company are just a misunderstanding.
“Other schools have continued to run things like pizza day and the money goes back to the school. The new company will actually help the school,” she said. “I think kids hear things from other students and rumours get going. Nobody has explained to them what is happening and it might just be a breakdown in communication.”
As far as the school is concerned, the case is as good as closed.
“In the end what it comes down to is that this is a structural change that is being made by the school board and it is about efficiency,” said Conlon. “New regulations are coming down from ministry about the quality of food in cafeterias and they have decided to regulate it across the board.”
Until new information or explanation is provided, the fight continues for the students and the number of signatures on the petition is climbing.
“These cafeteria ladies have been there for so long. They know everybody’s names and they always say something nice to you,” said Charron. “A lot of people have said that we can’t do much about this, but we figure if we do as much as we can, at least we can say we have tried.”