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N.H. School District Keeps Contract With Food Service Provider That Fired Lunchroom Worker


In March, a lunchroom employee named Bonnie Kimball lost her job at Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

Her employer, a company called Cafe Services, based in Manchester, fired her for providing lunch to a student who had no money in their account.

The story is getting a lot of attention around the state and reporter Tim Camerato broke the story in the Valley News. He spoke with NHPR's Emily Quirk on All Things Considered.

So can you walk us through what happened at Mascoma Valley Regional High in late March?

Yeah. So Bonnie Kimball is an employee who had been working there for about five years, and as she tells it, it was a time when the current company she was working for, Cafe Services, their contract was coming to an end. And there was another group bidding for that contract for food services, not just for the high school, but also the elementary schools and the middle school. And so she says that this is a time period where sort of everybody was on edge, trying to perform the best they could just because they were under a little bit more watch. And she says it was during this time period that a child came through her line -- she was the cashier at the time -- she rang him up, there wasn't any money in his account, and so she quietly told him, 'You need money for your account.' He said, 'Okay.' And then the next day her district manager called [her] into [his] office and told her that she was going to be terminated.

So you visited Bonnie Kimball at her home outside of Canaan Village just after she was fired. What did she say then?

So she actually had mixed feelings on it. She felt very supported by Mascoma as a community and the school district, and was upset about how this private company that contracts with Mascoma handled the whole situation. She was very upset with the fact that they didn't tell her that she had done something wrong at the moment. A district manager had seen the interaction that she had with the student and really didn't speak up at the time. So she felt blindsided by all of this. Also, we got indication that a couple other members of the food service staff had left their jobs in protest of this. And we had also heard that a couple of the students at the high school and some teachers had stopped using the service altogether for a period of time and boycotted it because of their decision.

Well the story clearly strikes a nerve with some people. It's gotten a lot of attention on social media. But why is it interesting to you?

There are two big reasons. One is we in the Upper Valley - and I think throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, too - have kind of seen these issues of how do school districts and school boards and food service companies, how did they handle a student not having the money to be able to pay to eat. Claremont has been going over trying to create policies and trying to create a system that allows it to not essentially run large deficits, but keep students fed, and reminds people to apply for free and reduced lunch. Mascoma has about a 30 percent student population that qualify for free and reduced lunch. And so it's something that's been on their minds for a long time and there's actually a food pantry within the high school.

It's also a big issue because this is one of the chances that people, regular people, were able to have their say in how something gets changed. This came up for a vote on Tuesday night and the school board did vote to continue with Cafe Services. But people had their say and they had a chance to contact the local school board members ahead of the vote and try and get a change done.

Do you think this incident influenced the school district's vote to decide their new lunch provider?

I don't think it had that large of an influence. I was talking to superintendent this afternoon and she said that they have received a large amount of calls and have received a lot of community input on this. At the end of day Cafe Services has been with Mascoma for 26 years and their offering Mascoma a lot more at the end of the day. They were offering 16,000 dollars to continue the service while their closest competitor was offering close to 67 dollars.

Emily has worked for NPR member stations since 2007. Before joining the NHPR staff in 2012, she served as local host for All Things Considered as well as Director of Business and Foundation Support for KUSP, Santa Cruz, CA. While living in Santa Cruz, she also produced 2 weekly music programs Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Free Radio Santa Cruz) and Taste of Honey (KUSP).

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