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BOE members question new daycare contract
new usd board table
The Great Bend Board of Education’s first meeting in the new District Education Center at 1809 24th St. was Monday evening. Pictured, from left: Karen Lindberg, Sara Williams, Deanna Essmiller, Aaron Emerson, president Jacque Disque, Randy Wetzel and Chad Burroughs. - photo by Susan Thacker

Some Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education members said they were previously unaware that the district’s Food Service department plans to sell meals to Bright Beginnings Daycare when school resumes in August. The new daycare’s name was included on the agenda with the approval of meal prices and fees.

Bright Beginnings opened June 3 and the list of meal prices presented to the school board showed USD 428 would offer Bright Beginnings lunches for $3.50 each and breakfasts for $1.50 each – the same price charged to Holy Family School.

Food Services Director Kristy Alvord was at Monday’s meeting to answer questions about the increased meal prices (see story here). 

“I have a lot of questions,” said board member Chad Burroughs. “First, how did Bright Beginnings come about?”

Burroughs continued, “When the daycare was first announced, before the first shovel of dirt was turned over, I was approached by a taxpayer who was concerned (because) he heard that the district was going to provide meals for this daycare. They said, ‘Why are my tax dollars (for the) school district paying for meals at the daycare?’ I came to you (Superintendent Khris Thexton), and that’s when you said ‘I don’t think that’s something that we’re going to be interested in doing.’ We’re in the education business; we’re not in the daycare business.”

He added, “What will stop other daycares (from requesting food service)? I think this will set a horrible precedent and we will not be able to get out of it.”

Board members were told a contract has been written but it hasn’t been signed yet. It will be on the board agenda on June 26, the date of a special meeting to close out the 2023-2024 calendar year. That meeting will start at 7:30 a.m. at the District Education Center, 1809 24th St.

“This happened without our knowing,” board member Deanna Essmiller said.

Superintendent Thexton said Bright Beginnings plans to add a kitchen. Meanwhile, the cost of any service provided by USD 428 will be covered by the price charged. “It’s similar to what we do at Holy Family,” he said. 

Referring to the new daycare center, Thexton said the district’s initial response as the daycare was under construction was that it was not interested in providing food service.

“This is a program that’s needed in our community,” Thexton said.

“It was understood that school districts in Great Bend and Hoisington would assist with food service until they can get fully functional and get on their feet where they can have their own serving kitchen and moving forward. Their plan was, if we couldn’t assist, Hoisington would.”

Alvord was asked how many meals will go to the daycare and whether this will require her to add more employees.

“You don’t feel it puts any undue hardship on your staff?” board member Karen Lindberg asked.

Alvord said Bright Beginnings can hold up to 50 children but may not need that many meals. They are getting 10 meals a day this summer.

 This will not require extra labor, she said. “It doesn’t matter whether I’m making 500 servings of chili in the big pot or 530. It’s one person making it; it’s all the same. So it’s not really increasing my labor too much at all.”

As for transportation, Food Service goes by the new daycare on the way to Eisenhower Elementary School. And, the district closed Helping Hands Preschool, so the number of delivery sites won’t change.

Board President Jacquie Disque returned to Burroughs’ previous question. “What happens if home daycares call (asking for service)? That’s something we need to think about.” Concerning Bright Beginnings, she said, “When will their kitchen be done?”

Thexton said Bright Beginning projects being able to provide its own food service by 2026 at the latest. “We could be one year and done.”

Board member Randy Wetzel wanted to know if the grant for the daycare contained verbiage about food service and board member Aaron Emerson wanted to know if USD 428 food service is limited to educators. (It isn’t.) Entities that receive service have 30 days to pay each month’s bills or they are in breach of contract. The grant requirements were unknown but Thexton suggested the daycare was unable to provide an operating kitchen and staff before the opening date this month.

• Burroughs made a motion not to sign a food service contract with Bright Beginnings. His motion died for lack of a second. The contract was not on Monday’s agenda.

As discussion continued, board members asked if the contract has to be for one year. “In my opinion, six months is good,” Disque said.

Assistant Superintendent John Popp said he does not believe this contract would set any kind of precedent. 

“It’s a one-time special situation to support an entity that’s trying to get off the ground for something that we desperately need in this community, which is daycare.” Meals might be provided by Hoisington, but, “Personally, I feel like it looks a little bit bad if we allow a different school district to provide lunches for these kiddos, when we’re right here.”

Essmiller agreed that the district has helped other entities when needed. “We helped St. John during COVID,” she said, “It’s unfortunate that (Bright Beginnings) planned for us to do it and didn’t tell us that we were gonna do it.”

Emerson and board member Sara Williams were among those who said a six-month contract might be better than a one-year contract, so the district would be able to assess how it is going.