Open letter from Board of Education member Jill Fitzgerald:
As a BOE Commissioner who felt strongly that the privatization of the cafeteria was the right thing for the City of Bristol, I am very saddened that this turn of events has occurred. My reasons for supporting this change were simple: the children, staff and families would have more choices; Whitson's is a family-owned business that is dedicated to this mission of providing nutritional food while following state and federal guidelines and they are doing a fantastic job in New Britain; our current Food Services Director has to handle two other very important jobs (transportation and school security) which prohibit him from dedicating himself to the food services; AND the deficit the cafeteria was running year after year was taking away from resources we need to dedicate to the education of the students in the district.
It was a difficult decision knowing that our workers would have to deal with these changes, but there was a guarantee made to us that they would be offered jobs with Whitson's as well as receiving some severance, prorated pensions, and the ability to collect unemployment compensation for the summer months.
In making this decision, I weighed the pain of the students who have lost middle school sports and music programs and the pain of the teachers who have been laid off due to budget constraints against the pain the part-time cafeteria workers would have in making this transition. I had to uphold my charge as an elected volunteer of the BOE, which is dedicated to the education of the children in the district. One of my personal goals was to see full-day kindergarten in Bristol because I believed the majority of families would benefit from it. It would make our district competitive with surrounding towns and would allow our teachers more time with kindergarten students to better prepare them for the demands they would be faced with in the higher grades.
I believed that it was good stewardship to make this hard decision. I was very surprised to see the union leaders disregard any logical argument and take to bullying and intimidation to "win" this battle. I have seen bullying legislation come down from the state legislature to the BOE that has a no-tolerance policy for the type of tactics that were being applauded in our BOE meetings.
I am disappointed that our attorney, the state department of education, and staff advised us to move forward once we won the arbitration award because they saw no reason not to, but we all make decisions based on our best judgment. I do want to remind the community that we went to arbitration to determine whether we have the legal right to privatize And We Won. That clearly states that our argument was a good one.
This turn of events is based on one argument and that is that one board member went along with the tentative agreement in the sub-committee but decided to vote with the majority of the BOE commissioners in the full committee meeting against it. I have been around a long time and I find little shocking anymore, but I do find that shocking.
As we move forward, it is my hope that the all of the adults involved will proceed with the best interest of the students, families and taxpayers in mind.