Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

LEAP Academy mute on recommendations for food service contract process

After my series of stories on the great lengths that LEAP Academy University Charter School went through to give the school's chef a $24,000 raise, LEAP's board of trustees said it was formally reviewing the matter. Well, apparently there are recommendations for the board to consider. But the school is mute on what they are.

LEAP Academy mute on recommendations for food service contract process

After my series of stories on the great lengths that LEAP Academy University Charter School went through to give the school’s chef a $24,000 raise, LEAP’s board of trustees said it was formally reviewing the matter.

“On February 22, the LEAP board announced that it was conducting its own independent review of this process. No comment will be made until that review is complete,” LEAP board treasurer Peter Burke said in a statement at the time.

Well, apparently there are recommendations for the board to consider. But the school is mute on what they are.

“Recommendations from the process review were presented to the board at the most recent board meeting on April 16,” LEAP spokesman Adam Dvorin said last week. He added that the board is “evaluating those findings.”

However, Dvorin has refused to provide a copy of those recommendations and has not given a reason as to why. I have since filed an Open Public Records Act request to find out the recommendations.

As a charter school, LEAP is a public school with board meetings open to the public. Discussions or decisions made during the public portion of any meeting become part of the board’s public record. Therefore, it is puzzling why Dvorin has not provided a copy of the recommendations.

I wonder what LEAP would tell a parent or community member who asked about the recommendations.

When my stories ran, I received calls from some LEAP parents asking for further details on what was going on at their school. One parent, whose daughter is on the softball team, said he didn’t even know whether the girls would be able to play this year because of funding shortages and questioned how LEAP could afford such expenses related to the school chef.

Would that parent also be denied access to the recommendations?

Including Michele Pastorello’s new $95,000 salary, LEAP spent nearly $250,000 this school year to keep him employed as executive chef. The position typically pays about $40,000, according to industry experts.

Pastorello is the live-in boyfriend of LEAP founder and board chairwoman Gloria Bonilla-Santiago. She has recused herself from votes dealing with the food-service contracts.

LEAP contracted with Aramark as its food-service management company for the 2011-12 school year with a two-year renewal option. Under that contract, Pastorello became an Aramark employee at a $71,000 salary.

LEAP put out a new bid for a food-service management contract for this school year, specifying that the company chosen would have to retain three employees, including Pastorello. The two others received modest raises.

Because LEAP retained Pastorello when switching vendors, the school had to pay a $151,428 penalty to Aramark, documents show.

LEAP’s 2012-13 budget of $17 million is funded through local school taxes and state and federal aid.

About this blog
Julia Terruso started covering Camden and its residents, agencies, government and school district in September 2013. Previously, she worked at the Newark Star-Ledger covering the criminal justice system in Essex County and prior to that Union County.

Julia is a proud graduate of Syracuse University, originally from the Philadelphia area. Email tips, concerns and story ideas to jterruso@phillynews.com or reach her at 856-779-3876 or on Twitter @juliaterruso. Reach Julia at .

Julia Terruso
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