Layoffs are likely coming to the Santa Barbara Unified School District‘s Food Services program unless the Board of Education can intervene Tuesday night.

Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, who is leaving the district June 30, has recommended laying off 21 employees in the department and says the department is overstaffed. The layoffs would save the district $1.26 million, he said. 

At the same time, he wants to add six food service manager positions because he said that only one person previously supervised a staff of 123 and there needs to be a more even distribution of personnel resources. 

“We have two interrelated problems: the need to reduce staffing and to create an appropriate management structure to supervise and evaluate our food service staff,” Matsuoka said in a staff report for Tuesday night’s meeting. 

The district has a solid reputation for providing quality meals made from scratch to students, but over time, labor costs have grown too large for the district to handle, according to his report.

The district plans to ground six of its mobile food trucks and the staff members that come with them. Matsuoka said the district was leasing the trucks twenty-four hours a day, but only using them three.

“The trucks were unreliable, breaking down, leading to frequent repairs by the leasing company. We have stopped the lease on six mobile cafes, which will save $165,000 annually,” Matsuoka said. “The personnel to run those mobile cafes are still part of our labor costs.”
It also plans to halt free breakfast at six schools that were not considered full “provision 2” schools. A provision 2 school is one where the count of free and reduced meal students is sufficient that the school can offer a free breakfast for every student. 

The affected schools are Washington Elementary School, Goleta Valley and La Colina junior highs, and Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara high schools. The change will save about $840,000 annually.

Board President Laura Capps expressed frustration at the most recent school board meeting because she said it was the wrong time to lay off personnel. Layoffs should be a last resort, she told Noozhawk on Monday, particularly because new jobs will be nearly impossible to get right now because of the pandemic.

“Across this country and here in our community, food insecurity has skyrocketed since the pandemic struck,” Capps said. “Now is the time to creatively marshall every resource to keep our students from experiencing hunger. Now is not the time to lay off the school employees who prepare nutritious meals and get them into the homes of the families who need them.”

Paul Rooney, president of the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s classified employees association, said more than 780 people have signed a petition to block the layoffs. The school board has the signatures and a letter that Rooney sent in opposition.

“From the onset of the investigation and reassessment that started last year we were informed by the SBUSD administration that our input would be important in the process,” Rooney said in a letter. “Our team was led to believe by Meg Jette, John Becchio, and Brian Tanguay in a meeting on Jan. 16, 2020, that ‘the union would have input.’

“I also had a couple of short conversations with Meg Jette face to face and was assured by her of the union’s inclusion in the process. Obviously this didn’t happen and here we are today, in muddy waters, caused by the district’s lack of follow through with our classified union.”

The board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in a virtual setting.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.