Rochester City School District spokesperson Marisol Lopez said Tuesday that the district is making every effort to find qualified people to fill food manager roles.
“Twenty-one of our certified food managers have retired or taken positions elsewhere,” said Lopez. “We’re trying and we’re having a hard time with it.”
The lack of certified L-1 and L-2 food managers is one of the reasons why students will not receive hot lunches this school year. The district has served frozen meals shipped in from a Long Island vendor, Tasty Foods, until this week, when they received sandwiches “that didn’t meet their standard.”
The sandwich meat was discolored and many students, staff and parents were concerned that it was moldy. Lopez said it was not moldy, and the discoloration happened during the curing process. She said the district has decided to make sandwiches in-house instead.
“As soon as the district became aware of the issue, the food in question was immediately pulled from distribution to students,” said a district statement. “Meals for the foreseeable future will include deli sandwiches, a fruit of the day, a vegetable, juice, a snack item, and milk.”
The district laid off more than 200 BENTE staffers including cooks last fall as a cost saving maneuver. At that time, there was no in-person instruction in the district.
Now that in-person instruction has resumed for thousands of students, Dan DiClemente, who leads the BENTE union, said the district is desperately seeking replacements. DiClemente said the district offered to train anyone in the union with food or restaurant experience to run kitchens; only two people took up the offer.
He said many BENTE kitchen staffers make less than $14 an hour and didn’t qualify for unemployment until January.
“The layoffs occurred in October so many could not hang on until now to come back to work,” said DiClemente.
DiClemente said instability and the fear of future layoffs makes the job less attractive and motivated many people to move on. He also said that some fast food jobs in Rochester pay more.
“It’s difficult to get people to come back,” said DiClemente. “It's also difficult to get people to believe that the district wants them and will keep them until the end of the school year. That’s left us at a point where it’s difficult to staff the kitchens with a person with a certification needed to serve hot meals.”
Board of Education Commissioner Amy Maloy has been vocal about the state of district meals on social media. She said she regreted voting for the layoffs and thinks the district should have been more prepared.
"I think we've had to figure things out as we go along, and any decision can lead to a chain reaction and other decisions," said Maloy. "Food service is a basic enough item that I wish that we planned for that as soon as we laid off those other employees. I don't want to place blame. At this point we have to move forward and find a viable solution. It would behoove us now and look forward and look at what are our best options in the community to best serve our students."