A March 2012 menu feature at Camden's LEAP Academy University Charter School was grilled cheese, tomato soup, peas, and fresh fruit. This month, the menu features grilled cheese, tomato soup, and strawberry applesauce.
A more striking change than in the menu is what executive chef Michele Pastorello is getting for his work now - a $24,000 raise from last year.
He will make $95,000 this school year - significantly more than comparable food-service directors' salaries in other New Jersey public school districts.
The raise came as part of a new food-service contract the school entered for this year, replacing Aramark with Metz Culinary Management. According to the school's bid specifications, obtained by The Inquirer from a person knowledgeable about the matter, Metz was required to retain Pastorello.
Pastorello is also the live-in boyfriend of the founder and board chair of the charter school, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago. The two are in a "committed relationship," said school spokesman Adam Dvorin.
Because of her personal relationship with Pastorello, Bonilla-Santiago recused herself from any votes dealing with the food-service contract, Dvorin said. He said neither Bonilla-Santiago nor Pastorello were available for interviews. [emphasis mine]Oh, she "recused herself," did she? Well, then, everything must be just fine! Nothing to see here folks, move along...
A school district of fewer than 5,000 students would generally pay a food-service director - the post comparable to executive chef at LEAP - between $45,000 and $50,000, said Tom Dermott, president of Clarion Group, a food-service consulting firm. A suburban district with 20,000 to 30,000 students could pay about $60,000, or at most $80,000, he said.
But $95,000 is "pretty steep . . . well above market rate" for a charter school with about 1,000 students, Dermott said.
The food-service director for the nearby Pennsauken School District, which has 5,603 students, has a $76,206 salary, according to school officials. The Cherry Hill School District food-service director, who is an Aramark employee, makes about $50,000, according to a person familiar with the contract. That district has about 13,000 students.I guess this is the sort of awesome stuff charters can do when they are "freed" from the "burden" of "bureaucracy" and allowed to "innovate," right?
LEAP, of course, is the charter that lost its non-profit tax status and has now put its bonds, guaranteed by Rutgers-Camden, at risk. The charter, which has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for years and underperforms relative to its student population, has an anti-union past and a history of athletic recruiting violations. Bonilla-Santiago has been accused of using school personnel for her personal benefit. The school is the center ring in New Jersey's charter school circus...
And yet Commissioner Chris Cerf, oblivious to LEAP's many problems, happily cut the ribbon this past fall on the charter's new facility:
There he is, enjoying the ceremony while his friend Bonilla-Santiago helpfully holds the ribbon. I wonder what they had for lunch afterwards...
Meanwhile, Camden's public schools - you know, the ones that have to serve the kids LEAP won't take - are crumbling. And the beautiful, deserving children of Camden - who live in one of the poorest, most dangerous cities in America - wait and wait and wait for new schools that will teach all of them.
How much longer does this idiocy have to continue before the New Jersey Legislature wakes up and demands accountability from Commissioner Cerf and Governor Christie? How many more accusations of cronyism and cheating and favoritism and mismanagement and incompetence and segregation do we need to endure before someone finally admits that the New Jersey charter oversight system is completely broken?
Chris Cerf's NJDOE has proven yet again that it does not know how to approve or oversee New Jersey's charter schools. There should be a moratorium on any new charters until state law is rewritten and control of charters includes local approval and oversight.
This clown show has gone on long enough.
Accountability begins at home.