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Cafeteria workers to try 'pay for performance' plan

5:16 PM, Jul 15, 2011   |    comments
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"There's things that I can work at, things that can be better to get them to eat all fruits and vegetables that are offered," Watson said.

Leo Lesh, the executive director for enterprise management at Denver Public Schools, oversees food services. Lesh says the district wanted to try something never done before anywhere nationwide for cafeteria workers.

"We've been looking for years at how do we pay these people better," Lesh said. "You know, we're not teachers, but what we do is important."

Lesh worked with the president of the Denver Federation for Paraprofessionals and Nutrition Services Employees, Bernadette Jiron, to craft a plan to implement in the 2012 school year which will go along with current efforts to cook all school food from scratch with fresh ingredients.

"The purpose is, for one, get the employees involved so that the parents know and the community know that we're working on healthy foods just for everybody," Jiron said.

Jiron was able to secure a $150,000 innovation grant from the American Federation of Teachers Union which Jiron's local chapter is a part of.

"This is a great, great opportunity for us to move forward in a positive way," Jiron said.

Many people are familiar with how a pay for performance plan works for teachers. If a student's test scores improve, a teacher can be rewarded with more money. Lesh says the plan for food service workers will focus on getting more kids to eat better at school. One measure could be the number of students who purchase lunch.

"If our participation rate say at this school is 50 percent and someone brings it up to 60 percent and 70 percent, that's a measure of efficiency," Lesh said.

Watson says that makes sense.

"Participation would mean a lot," Watson said. "The more you get your numbers up and increased participation, yes, I do think it'll make a difference."

Lesh says other measures could be health inspection scores, profits, grades on customer service.

"Smiling at a child, making the food right, garnish it, having it look good, having it taste good," said Lesh. "They do that, [students are] going to come back."

The logistics of the plan are still being developed, but Jiron is confident they will create a system that could have a nationwide impact.

"I'm hoping this model will go out through other districts," Jiron said.

Watson says she and other food workers wouldn't mind the chance at extra money. She says the more important aspect is motivating more people to urge kids to eat right.

"It would make you a better person also," Watson said. "You will feel better about making a difference in a child's life."

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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