JESPA, Coloradans for the Common Good, and Jeffco Food Policy Council Unite for Student Well-being: Jeffco Board of Education Meeting Recap


Saturday, February 17, 2024

Thursday night’s Jeffco Board of Education meeting was marked by impassioned advocacy as community leaders converged to address critical issues affecting student well-being and access to quality education. Representatives from the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA), Coloradans for the Common Good (CCG), and the Jeffco Food Policy Council voiced concerns about the availability of unhealthy food options in schools and the outsourcing of student transportation to private rideshare companies, a topic up for a vote that Thursday night.

JESPA, a member of Coloradans for the Common Good, has been steadfast in advocating for healthy school meals for all students, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. By aligning with other institutions in CCG, JESPA members have garnered support from over 30 organizations, making significant strides in ensuring students have access to nutritious meals. However, there is still work to be done.

One standout advocate, Andrea Cisneros, a member of JESPA, CCG, and the Jeffco Food Policy Council, as well as Hunger Free Colorado, faced reprimand for prioritizing healthy food options over unhealthy junk food in her school cafeteria.

Healthy School Meals and Recognition of Andrea Cisneros

Sarah Smith, a seasoned Jeffco preschool educator and JESPA member, opened the public comment session by emphasizing the pivotal role of healthy school meals in shaping students’ dietary habits from an early age. She stressed the importance of providing nutritious options and eliminating unhealthy snacks to promote a culture of wellness among students. “I was excited to get involved in making sure students had access to healthy school meals and that is why we are here tonight.”

Nicholas Marquez of Hunger Free Colorado echoed Sarah’s sentiments, underlining the need for minimally processed meals to support student health and academic performance. He emphasized the positive impacts of nutritious school meals on student well-being and urged the board to prioritize these initiatives, and to also supported Andrea. “I ask that you consider what my colleagues share with you today and that you lift up workers like Andrea Cisneros as a beacon of change for which your constituents have expressed that they want.”

Andrea Cisneros, a dedicated school food service worker and advocate for healthy school meals, shared her personal journey of transformation and commitment to prioritizing student health. Andrea highlighted the detrimental effects of selling unhealthy snacks in schools and called on the board to take bold action to align school meal programs with values of health, wellness, and sustainability. “By educating my students about the value of their health, I showed them that I had heard their concerns and cared about their well-being. I couldn’t ignore my students any longer.”

Zander Kaschub, a fellow food service worker and President of JESPA, echoed Andrea’s concerns, drawing attention to the board’s previous commitments to end junk food sales in schools. He emphasized the need for the board to uphold these promises and prioritize student health over profit-driven decisions.  Most of all, he urged support for Andrea:

“Andrea’s unwavering commitment to refuse the sale of junk food in our schools is not just an act of individual bravery; it’s a statement against the commodification of our children’s health. She embodies the very essence of moral fortitude, standing firm against the tide of profit-driven decisions that prioritize financial gain over the welfare of our students.

We will not stand idly by as our rights as union members are threatened. We will not remain silent while our principled stance is met with punishment rather than praise. It is time to show true leadership, to honor our promises, and to stand with us in defense of our students’ health.”

Growing Outsourcing Costs Raise Deep concerns:

JESPA bargaining team members addressed the issue of outsourcing student transportation to rideshare companies, highlighting a complaint regarding district administrators using district resources to help HopSkipDrive Inc. produce an unauthorized advertisement which violated the terms of their contract with Jeffco.

Outsourcing is a top issue for the JESPA membership, who have consistently raised concerns about the district’s continued failure to create a comprehensive staffing plan but instead resort to outsourcing. JESPA filed a complaint earlier this week to the Colorado Department of Labor for failures to post jobs with correct pay ranges as required in the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.

The bargaining team and leaders from CCG were present at the board meeting due to an agenda item to authorize an increase to the agreements with EverDriven (ALC Schools), Noah Care, and Hop Skip Drive, Inc. for the supplementary student transportation at an estimated combined increase of $2,150,000, for a projected total of $3.9M for this school year.  All board members have made commitments on outsourcing during their campaigns, yet during their tenure they have approved every request to increase outsourcing to the rideshare companies.

Nikki Wilson, a health aide and a mother of two daughters who are part of a vulnerable population of students who have used rideshare services, highlighted the detrimental effects of outsourcing on student safety.  “The safety of our kids needs to be our top priority…Our Jeffco bus drivers provide consistency. They know my daughters, and care enough to engage, relate, and communicate. Consistency means safety. We need to do everything in our power to keep our drivers thriving in Jeffco.” Nikki highlighted the recent report from In The Public Interest, “School Support Services Outsourcing: The Original Privatization of Education” which highlights nationwide evidence that contracting out student transportation services is not in the best interest of students, district financial health, and employees.  

Darcy Hassler, a paraprofessional, raised concerns about the rideshare companies’ arbitration processes, which can keep parent, rider, and driver complaints private.  “We are deeply concerned that an entity providing a public service using public tax dollars is using this private arbitration process to keep these matters hidden.”

Trevor Byrne, bus driver and JESPA Bargaining Chair emphasized the urgency of reevaluating financial priorities and reallocating funds to address pressing needs within the district, calling the district’s allocation of millions to outsourcing a slap in the face to current employees.  A meeting Thursday morning showed drivers are last in pay at midpoint for school bus drivers across ten metro area school districts.  “Essentially you are giving these companies a raise while telling us no.”


Community Call to Action:

Memory Wollenweber, a leader from Community of Grace Presbyterian representing Coloradans for the Common Good, reminded the board of its commitments to healthy school meals and urged members to honor these promises. She emphasized the need to prioritize student well-being and eliminate practices that undermine efforts to promote nutritious choices in schools. She delivered a letter to board from CCG leaders.

Leaders from the Jeffco Food Policy Council urged fair compensation for cafeteria staff, support for Andrea Cisneros for prioritizing healthy meals, and a call for an end to the sale of junk food in school cafeterias. The Jeffco Food Policy Council is a key partner in our Jefferson Area Healthy School Meals Pilot program which was negotiated two years ago.  Hallie Nelson, Director of the council said that school food is consistently a top priority. “Our members have consistently called out their opposition to the promotion and sale of ultra processed food in schools,” and went on to say, “Cafeteria staff should not have to push junk food on children to earn their wage.”

Jeffco parent Milagros Chavez announced that parents had collected many signatures from parents who support Andrea Cisneros and her labor of love for her students and called on the board to end junk food sales in Jeffco.

Another parent, Jessica Bobitsky, and her daughter also shared support for Andrea. When Jessica shared with her daughter why she was attending the board meeting, her daughter said, “Mom, no one should ever face termination for trying to feed children healthy food.” 

The collective voices of JESPA, Coloradans for the Common Good, and concerned parents from the Jeffco Food Policy Council delivered a resounding call to action. They demanded an end to outsourcing practices that compromise student safety and fiscal responsibility. Additionally, they called for the elimination of unhealthy snack options in schools to promote a culture of wellness and support student health.

The Jeffco Board of Education meeting served as a platform for community members to unite in their advocacy for student well-being and equitable access to education. As stakeholders in the district, JESPA, CCG, and concerned parents remain steadfast in their commitment to pushing for meaningful change. They urge the board to honor its commitments, prioritize student health, and take decisive action to address the critical issues raised during the meeting.

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