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Apples and food service — big stories in Little Falls

Little Falls, big headlines.

Ba-dum-cha — I know. But seriously, for your weekend perusal, I offer links to a couple of items of note.

First, a story in the Nov. 4 edition of the New York Times reported that three times in the last two years Little Falls schools officials have gotten midwinter breaks courtesy of Apple:

“In visits the officials described as inspirational, they checked out the company’s latest gadgets, discussed the instructional value of computers with high-level Apple executives and engineers, and dined with them and other educators at trendy restaurants. Apple paid for meals and their stay at a nearby inn.

“The visits paid off for Apple too — to the tune of $1.2 million in sales. In September, Little Falls handed out iPads to 1,700 of its 2,500 students at a celebration in the school gym. And a few days earlier, 200 teachers got a pep talk via video chat from an Apple executive whom the school superintendent had come to know during his company visits.”

Payola? There’s more, including the officials’ defense of their actions and some critical remarks from the local chapter of Common Cause.

The other story, from the Morrison County Record, reports the end of a telling little saga involving the district’s 24 food service workers, who successfully beat back a district plan to outsource their jobs to a multinational corporation that would have profited in part by giving them hours on an as-needed basis.

The corporation, Chartwells, already manages the food service but the workers are employed by the district under a contract with the Minnesota School Employees Association. Yes, that’s right, a union:

“The Minnesota School Employees Association is a public sector union representing school district employees who are NOT teachers or administrators,” Executive Director Christina Clark explained. “We represent the drivers who get your kids to school, the cooks who cook for them and serve them breakfast and lunch, the janitors who clean up for them and after them, the technicians who keep their equipment running for them, the security staff that keep them safe, the office staff who manage and facilitate paperwork, events, and student/parent needs, and the paraprofessionals who support teachers’ work with students in the classrooms and special education settings.  We represent nearly 6,000 employees in 60 school districts across the state, from Warroad to Worthington, from Moorhead to Minnetonka, from Red Lake to Rochester.”

How did the Little Local That Could pull this off? According to Clark, members did their homework to show that the corporation’s claims of the savings to be had in outsourcing their jobs were exaggerated. But more than that, they framed a winning message — the importance to the local tax base and economy of keeping their jobs in the community — and repeated it over and over.

Which is a bigger deal than it sounds, given the low-wage nature of the jobs, added Clark. “We often have problems getting members to meetings because they have second and third jobs and are running off to get their own kids,” she said.

Does she, too, have harsh words for Little Falls’ superintendent? Not really. “Districts are struggling mightily with the theft, for want of a better word, of their funds,” she said. “It takes a union, or even an employee and community member to fight back.” 

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