Café delay

Blue Valley’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services addresses the ongoing shortage of cafeteria workers in the District.

Rachel Hostetler, Online Chief Writer

Northwest’s cafeteria personnel arrive between 6:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. every day in order to prepare breakfast and lunch meals. The staff receives groceries on Wednesdays and produce arrives on Mondays. Beverages and bread also need to be put away. Once lunch is over, the staff gets ready for the next day, then they leave work around the same time as students. This is the weekly schedule Charles Rathbun, the Director of Food and Nutrition Services, described as being typical of a cafeteria worker. 

On Sunday, Jan. 5, principal Amy Pressly sent an email to the Northwest community regarding the second semester, and included a paragraph regarding the lunchroom. 

“Our traditional days will be without our Husky Halftime for now.  We currently do not have enough cafeteria workers to feed all our students in a 50-minute timeframe.  The cafeteria staff needs various lunch shifts in order to have enough time and manpower to get everyone successfully fed.  We know that our students like and enjoy Husky Halftime and we will keep you posted about when we may be able to implement it again.  In the meantime, if you know anyone who would like to join our cafeteria staff, please encourage them to apply on the district website,” Pressly said. 

This year, Rathbun said he has seen an increase in the number of vacancies, and an increase in the amount of temporary employees in the District. 

“It’s definitely been more of a challenge these last couple years to fill positions because of vacancies, especially leading up to the beginning of the school year,” Rathbun said. 

However, Rathbun said he has seen even more vacancies lately. He attributed this to a country-wide shortage of personnel in the workforce, adding that people have potentially found other jobs. 

“I think if you look around in any service industry right now there’s a shortage of staff,” Rathbun said.  “I think part of it is that people are concerned about working in a setting where there’s a lot of people, with the pandemic.”

Additionally, he said some employees left their positions because the job is not right for them. 

“I think we lose some staff that need more hours, more time, and a 12 month position, so we’ll lose some employees for that reason alone, which I understand,” Rathbun said. 

To make up for vacancies, the District works with Pinnacle Staffing Group, an agency that provides employees to schools in order to temporarily fill vacant positions. Rathbun said there are a couple of these employees at Northwest.

The District is also seeing an increase in the number of vacancies for positions outside of the cafeteria, including teacher assistants and managers, Rathbun said. 

“We have openings District wide, it’s not just at Northwest. I oversee all the schools throughout the District and we currently have 24 openings for cafeteria assistants, and one manager position,” Rathbun said. “We usually have five or six openings throughout the District, especially this time of year. But we’ve noticed a slow-down in the number of applicants that come in to fill these positions.”

To attract potential employees, Rathbun said the District offers many attractive benefits, including referral bonuses and pay that generally increases throughout the years an employee works for the District. 

Wages for Northwest’s cafeteria personnel fluctuate depending on how long the person has worked for the District, with higher wages for individuals who have been around for a long time. Rathbun said some staff members have been in the District for 30 years. 

“I hate to give you a range because if you have worked for the District for 20 some years, it’s probably way different than your starting wage. I would say the average wage [for cafeteria personnel] throughout the District, based on how long they have worked, would be right around $15 per hour,”  Rathbun said. 

“I think a lot of the staff come here because the District offers fair compensation, fair pay and they get full benefits,” Rathbun said.  “A lot of our employees also like the idea of working while their kids are in school. It gives them that flexibility.”

He said cafeteria employees often choose their position because it works well for their families. According to Rathbun, staff work when students are in school, so they get holidays and weekends off, and are clocked out around 3:00 p.m. every day.

“A lot of our staff like not working in the summer, so they can spend time with their family,” Rathbun said.

Rathbun said to help the lunchroom staff, students should be patient with both Northwest cafeteria staff and temporary employees that have been called in to fill in the gaps.

“One of the things we’ve noticed is that the lunch rooms can be a little crowded sometimes, and students should recognize the fact that [the staff] are working very hard to serve them,” Rathbun said.