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Charter school discusses food authority program, board vacancies


The Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) Board of Directors held a regular meeting on Thursday, April 17, in which the board met with representatives from the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) to review a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two entities that outlines CSI’s role as the school’s food authority.

According to the MOU, CSI “serves as a School Food Authority (SFA), a governing body with the legal authority to operate a nonprofit food service program in schools.”

The MOU explains that CSI applies to receive federal funding from the Child Nutrition Program (CNP) and administers those funds to participating schools in accordance with state and federal laws.

CSI School Nutrition Program Manager Ilene Augustin led the conversation on the topic and explained that throughout this school year, CSI has not been getting the required documents in a timely manner in order to provide PPOS with its service.

“What we’ve found with Pagosa Peak is that due to the amount of staff that are turning over in the kitchen, the head of school is really having to step in and do a lot of the work for the kitchen staff,” she said. “So, we thought that it would be a better process for us to have the school board be part of the memorandum of understanding so that they’re reading through it, they understand everything and they’re actually the one actually signing it rather than the head of school, since the head of school can’t hold themselves accountable, shall we say, if there are issues with any of the agreements.”

Augustin explained that if a school is not compliant with turning in its records, such as temperature logs and production logs, then CSI will withhold reimbursement to the school until it receives proper documentation.

PPOS has contracted with CSI to be its food authority since the 2020-2021 school year.

PPOS School Director Angela Reali-Crossland acknowledged CSI’s concerns, explaining that staffing has been a main issue as to why there have been issues getting documents to CSI.

“We have had a lot of turnover in the kitchen and you know staffing is really hard, is the best way to say that, in this community, and I think the district would say the same thing,” she said.

She also mentioned that she has been filling in and taking on some of the kitchen staff roles.

Reali-Crossland went on to explain that PPOS cannot legally act as its own school food authority.

PPOS board treasurer Pamela Meade also acknowledged that there have been issues with getting CSI the required paperwork in a timely manner, but assured that the school board is taking the matter seriously.

“I know we’ve had many meetings about getting the information to you, so I definitely think the intent is there,” she said. “The intent is to always meet the deadline; we take it seriously.”

Meade also spoke about how kitchen staffing has been unreliable, contributing to the issue.

CSI Chief of Finance and Operations Andi Denton acknowledged the board’s struggles with retaining kitchen staff, saying, “we know how hard it can be. In certain areas it can be more challenging than others.”

Denton also explained that the MOU with PPOS is the standard MOU that CSI uses with all of its schools, and that it is not specific to PPOS.

Augustin clarified during the meeting that CSI does not provide meals, as that is the responsibility of the school.

According to the MOU, CSI’s responsibilities include: providing technical and administrative support for the Titan Point of Sale (POS) program, online training for CNP compliance, in-person or online training on the POS system before the start of school, review and determine status for all meal benefit applications within 10 business days of receipt, perform site reviews to ensure compliance for CNPs, submit monthly claims for reimbursement within a timely manner (CSI will withhold 14 cents per breakfast, 22 cents per lunch and seven cents per snack if applicable as a fee for SFA services), maintain all contracts relevant to the CNPs operation, set up meal prices and charging policies, import previous school year’s student statuses and account balances, and collect online payments from families to distribute funds to applicable schools monthly.

Also according to the MOU, the school’s responsibilities include: appointing a staff member responsible for the oversight of CNPs operating at the school site to communicate directly with the CSI food authority, appointing a staff member responsible for recognizing reimbursable meals and entering counts into Titan POS daily, appointing a staff member responsible for receiving meal benefit applications from households and forwarding them to CSI, providing free meals to all students who would like one under Healthy School Meals for All, and providing online meal benefit application information to households.

The MOU also states that the school is responsible for paying the annual administrative fee for participating in the SFA. The fee for the 2024-2025 school year is set at $5,500.

Augustin mentioned that if PPOS decides to continue to use CSI as its food authority, the MOU needs to be signed and returned to CSI by May 20.

“So, I’m assuming this is here …. because you are trying to meet these standards of records that you’ve been looking for and you haven’t been getting those on a cadence that you’re comfortable with,” said PPOS board member Jesse White.

White expressed some concern about the board getting too involved in day-to-day operations in the school kitchen, as the school board is meant to be a governing board, he explained.

“What I don’t want to do is, like, get into the state of going to look in the kitchen everyday,” he said. 

However, he mentioned that the board needs to take ownership to ensure CSI receives records in a timely manner.

“We’re looking for the board to just know what’s happening more in the school,” Augustin said. “We feel like the board just needs to be able to know what’s going on ... if we get to the point of having to withhold reimbursement, we feel that the board needs to know about that.”

White suggested that the school could do more performance evaluations of its kitchen staff to make sure everything is going smoothly.

PPOS board president Lawrence Rugar brought up the possibility of PPOS joining Archuleta School District’s (ASD’s) food program, and if that is a viable option.

PPOS Assistant Director Emily Murphy explained that ASD Food Service Director Todd Stevens has expressed concern about adding PPOS to its food program.

“Adding PPOS would be a financial burden to the district and not a benefit for them,” Murphy said.

She explained that PPOS has seen an increase in the number of students relying on the school’s food service now that it is free.

Board vacancies

At the same meeting, board member David Pribble announced that he would not be renewing for another term as a board member following the end of his current term, which is up this May.

The board also has one other open position.

Reali-Crossland explained in a later interview that the board can have up to seven members.

During the April 17 meeting, White suggested that the board look into the option of having an ASD board member join the PPOS board as a nonvoting member.