This school year has stationed food services director Nyla Denman at the heart of an experimental collaboration between Benton-Carroll-Salem and Port Clinton school districts.
Denman has been the food services director for Oak Harbor area schools for nearly seven years. This year, that job expanded to include overseeing the breakfast and lunch system at the adjacent Port Clinton City Schools.
“I’m always up for challenge,” Denman said. “But it was a little overwhelming at first.”
Daily, she has to call on her financial and nutritional knowledge as well as good time management to run two school district food programs smoothly.
“I’m not going to lie and say there haven’t been days when I’ve asked myself, ‘What am I doing?” she mused as she gave the BCS Board of Education an update on her work Tuesday night.
And she admitted she’s made some mistakes along the way. “I’m trying to run two different programs and I’m trying to merge them.”
The biggest negative, she said, is that she travels between both districts and always seems to “have the wrong shirt on in the wrong district.” She slips on a jacket with either a Port Clinton or Oak Harbor monogram to remedy the situation.
The other negative: “I have two treasurers who seem to want everything now and there’s only one of me,” Denman added.
Denman’s employment is provided to Port Clinton under the terms of a shared services contract. In it, Port Clinton agrees to pay half of the expenses of Denman’s salary and benefits, which amount to a $25,000 payment annually, said Tim Coffman, B-C-S schools treasurer.
Port Clinton Schools Superintendent Pat Adkins is the one who originally came up with the idea.
Earlier in the year, Adkins received notice that Liz Pagniano, Port Clinton schools’ food services director of more than 12 years, would be retiring when the 2012-13 school year ended. After careful consideration, he turned to B-C-S Superintendent Guy Parmagian to discuss the proposal.
Adkins sought Denman for the position because, he said, “She has the reputation of being one of the best in the area.”
Parmigian was willing to consider the idea but headed straight to Denman for a heart-to-heart talk.
“We had to talk to Nyla before we went any further,” Parmagian said. “Without her on board it wasn’t going to work.”
That, however, was only the first hurdle. The second was assuring B-C-S school board members that their breakfast/lunch program throughout the Oak Harbor area would not suffer because of the collaboration, Parmigian said.
Three months into the school year, things appear to be working, officials say.
“She has certainly been doing an incredible job,” Adkins said.
Denman noted she has been spending a lot more time in Port Clinton in recent weeks as she tries to get the system in line with her management style and program. Both districts also have point people on staff to handle issues when she is gone.
Board member Jeff Dornbusch, who is employed as Port Clinton City Schools’ treasurer, noted the shared services contract is a “very, very positive thing” for both communities and that Port Clinton has already benefitted from Denman’s experience.
Parmigian agreed. “Our governor and our taxpayers have asked us to be more creative with our tax dollars,” the superintendent said. “I think we are forerunners with this shared services contract.”
School food services directors across the nation are facing new challenges in meal preparation following guideline changes made by the federal government in the last year and half.
Some of those edicts include more fresh fruit and salad and less starchy foods like french fries and tater tots.
Denman began the year by retooling the lunch menus across the board at Port Clinton. The district used to serve the same meals daily across the district. Now, there is a separate menu for the high school, middle school and elementary. The a la carte menu has been expanded and more changes are on the way, Adkins said.
The deal also brings other benefits.
The two districts can demand better prices because they are buying in bulk for multiple school districts. This is the second time Port Clinton has reached out to a neighboring school district for a joint effort. Port Clinton shares a special education teacher with the Danbury School District to the east.
“The way school funding is going these days, I see the opportunity for more partnerships like this to come along,” Adkins said.