Hatfield schools’ food service chief quits over outsourcing moves

Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

HATFIELD — Hatfield public schools’ food services coordinator announced her resignation to the School Committee on Thursday night, expressing frustration that she was kept out of the loop in discussions about outsourcing the program and the tone officials had toward the program’s deficit.

But even though Amy Hutchins is leaving the position after four years, Superintendent Martin McEvoy is assuring the community that all students, whether studying remotely or in a hybrid format this fall, will get meals when school resumes Sept. 14.

McEvoy said plans are in progress to partner with the University of Massachusetts Dining Services to provide USDA-compliant meals to all students.

At the Aug. 25 School Committee meeting, McEvoy told the committee that exploring other food service models is a matter of improvement and “to see how we can be more economically responsible and deliver better products and nutrition for kids, so it was done in that spirit.”

The outsourcing and examination of how to provide food has been a project for a School Committee subcommittee led by member Heather Cahill. That exploration also included determining whether a partnership with Hadley public schools might be possible, or even working with an agency like ServiceNet.

During the virtual meeting with the School Committee, Hutchins said she was concerned about misrepresentations about the $33,997 deficit in the lunch program at the end of the last school year, which had to be covered by a budget transfer. About $20,000 of this deficit was related to COVID-19 forcing the abrupt closing of Smith Academy and Hatfield Elementary School.

“It was extremely difficult to hear how this was presented,” Hutchins said. “It was hard not to feel it diminishes my reputation and the pride I have for this program.”

Committee member Christy Boudreau said at the Aug. 25 School Committee meeting that racking up the deficit needs to be addressed, and working with UMass might do that.

“Some of the things I heard today from UMass Dining fit some of our values too,” Boudreau said, including that it uses locally sourced produce.

“It’s continuously concerning,” Cahill said of the lunch deficit at the July 1 committee meeting, adding that innovative partnerships should be sought.

Hutchins said one of the problems for Hatfield, and the reason it has had a growing deficit, is that just 21% of students are on free and reduced-price lunches. Because of that, the schools get federal and state reimbursement of only around $55,000, or about half of what would be eligible if closer to the local average, in which 40% of students are getting free and reduced-price lunches.