For the first time since the early 1990s, the Philomath School District appears to be headed in a new direction with its food services program.

“After a 30-year arrangement and engagement with Corvallis School District Food Services, they are asking to alter the contract for service of what we are doing, altering it pretty significantly,” Superintendent of Schools Susan Halliday told the Philomath School Board at its March 14 meeting.

As such, Halliday said the district will need to determine how it moves forward with possibly taking on most if not all of the district’s food services operation, which involves everything from procuring food to processing necessary paperwork to making sure menus meet nutrition guidelines.

“In 30 years, we haven’t had to deal with that,” Halliday said.

The beginnings of the Corvallis School District’s food services relationship with Philomath dates back to June 1992 when the Corvallis School Board approved the plan. At the time, Corvallis had been working its way through various budgetary issues, including possible cuts in the district’s food services department. Corvallis board member Bruce Groll said at the time that the new source of income from Philomath might prevent some of those food services-related cuts.

Halliday said the district is having conversations with Corvallis with more clarity expected after a meeting on March 23.

The big question on the table: “Are we taking on the whole of the program in its entirety or are we being able to negotiate some components of this from Corvallis?” Halliday said.

Those components to be discussed would be “primarily in the area of a fixed price meal fee where we would do all the work, collect the money, process all the free and reduced information and what Corvallis would do is to continue to provide food and they would take care of any of the USDA reportings to make sure the meals meet the guidance of what needs to be served for students.”

Added Halliday, “We’re still in the process of figuring out which that is and doing some 

negotiations back and forth to figure out what would be best for us. Bottom line is students need to eat.”

Kathy Pitzer recently joined the Corvallis School District from the Greater Albany Public Schools District as its manager of food and nutrition services

Philomath has been in contact with the Oregon Department of Education about how to get started with training to be able to offer food services. Talks have also started with the district’s classified union to begin the process of formulating a memorandum of understanding regarding food services employees.

“If we take on the hiring of staff, we can do that, or if Corvallis says you know, ‘we can continue to pay staff members for at least another year,’ at least we’ve walked that road on both sides,” Halliday said. “But we felt like it was time in the decision-making process to be able to say something will be different. We don’t know entirely what it will be but we’re going through processes and protocols.”

Halliday said that although the food services employees are paid by the Corvallis School District, they have a heavy interest in wanting to continue serving Philomath. Some have worked in the local schools for many of those 30 years and also have concerns related to their retirement and insurance benefits.

Incidentally, Halilday said the district reached out to Sodexo, a company that provides facilities management and food services to schools, universities, hospitals, etc., but it turned out not to be an option.

Kings Valley Charter School is not a part of the Corvallis-Philomath agreement and has its own arrangement for food services.

The board anticipates a decision to be made on the path forward at its April meeting.

In other news from the March 14 board meeting:

• The district adjusted its school calendar in response to two snow days that occurred in February. All students and staff will make up one of those days on May 26 and staff only will have a professional learning day on June 20. Students will not need to make up the second day with the state-required number of hours having already been met. The last day of school for students remains June 16.

• The board approved 4-0 (Christopher McMorran absent) to sell a strip of property along Chapel Drive to Benton County at a price of $3,440 for right-of-way purposes. Benton County plans to move forward either this summer or in 2024 with improvements that include a raised intersection at Chapel Drive and South 19th Street, a center turn lane in front of Philomath Middle School, a multi-use path and bike lanes from South 19th east all the way to Bellfountain Road and other infrastructure improvements.

• The board went through two 2023-24 school year calendar options — one with classes beginning on Sept. 5 after Labor Day and the other beginning before the holiday on Aug. 30. A school calendar committee will continue its work with staff and family input factored in. The calendars are scheduled to go before the board for approval in April.

• The board approved a resolution to endorse Benton County’s $110 million bond measure (2-140) that will appear on the May 16 special election ballot to fund the construction of a new jail and other safety-related facilities as well as expand mental health and homelessness services. Benton County Commissioner Nancy Wyse provided comments and answered questions at the meeting.

• The board approved a project to upgrade lighting at Clemens Field at no cost to the school district. The $103,446 price tag will be paid for through state programs that provide funds for projects related to energy efficient upgrades. The work is expected to take place this summer.

• The board approved three motions with no discussion related to licensed teacher and administration renewals and non-renewals.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.