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School District Canceling Contract with Local Papa John's Franchise Was the Wrong Decision

by on September 17, 2018 5:00 AM

That will show ‘em.  

The State College Area School Board at its meeting last week voted 5-4 to rescind a decision from August to renew the school district’s contract with the local franchise of Papa John’s pizza as the vendor for pizza day in school cafeterias. Board members expressed concerns about the recent controversy with Papa John’s founder John Schnatter after reportedly talking with community members in the weeks since the original contract vote.

In July, Schnatter resigned as chairman of the board of Papa John’s under pressure when comments he made during a conference call became public. Use of racist terminology in that call, coming months after Schnatter made controversial statements related to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, raised the ire of members of the corporation’s board of directors as well among the public.

At last week’s board meeting, SCASD school board members raised concerns that Schnatter, who continues to hold considerable stock in Papa John’s, and his comments were in conflict with the district’s School Climate and Inclusive Excellence Policy.   

So, to summarize, a person makes a very public mistake, is terminated, is removed from all advertising and marketing materials. Two months ago. The person is effectively held accountable for offensive behavior and the State College Area School Board decides that isn’t enough. They make the decision to terminate a contract with the local franchise to make sure that our community is getting the right message.

The message I got from their decision is that our elected school district officials need to prioritize their time and energy a little better.    

It reminds me of that time that State College Borough Council passed a resolution against the war in Iraq.   Instead of focusing on the real issues and day-to-day concerns of their constituents, elected officials waste time and energy on decisions that are more about getting their names in the newspaper than having real impact.

According to reports from district administrators, Papa John’s pizza as a lunch option in our school cafeterias was very successful, not only in terms of revenue for the food services department but also for the number of students buying a hot lunch. Prior vendors used for pizza day were not as popular with the students.    

In other words, kids like Papa John’s pizza.  

Despite that, the board voted to cancel the contract with the local franchisee, who had nothing to do with the comments or decisions made by Schnatter, and eliminate a popular and financially strong lunch option, months after the offender was held accountable for his bad decisions.    

That will show them. We mean business here in State College.

School board members were reportedly concerned about the message that continuing the contract would send to students and the community.  It seems to me that for the few children and adolescents who, first, have any understanding of a months-old scandal and then are upset because the district is continuing to do business with that company, there might be an opportunity for a teachable moment about how bad decisions mean you can be held accountable. Instead, we are teaching them about piling on, punishing people for things for which they weren’t responsible and making questionable budget decisions

Despite the offensive comments (and perhaps attitudes) of the now terminated Schnatter, it doesn’t appear that either Papa John’s at the corporate level or here in State College has culture of discrimination in their hiring, promotion or letting of franchises practices.  That’s more than we can say about other companies. Is the school district, for instance, going to ban the showing of all movies produced by Harvey Weinstein’s former company?

I feel sorry for the district staff and administrators who are now going to have to vet all of the vendors and contractors who do business with the school district based on these new standards for not only conduct but for words. If perfect is what they are going for, I wish them luck.      

Does choosing this time and this issue to take a stand really do anything?

The district’s School Climate and Inclusive Excellence Policy includes the goal of “Preparing students to engage with others in diverse community and work settings through skills and competencies in effective listening and communication, leadership, collaboration, participatory deliberation and problem solving.”   The irony that the board indicated that the local Papa John’s franchise can bid again next year brings into question this decision as political grandstanding rather than a genuine effort in support of those inclusion goals. Let’s jump on the controversy, even it’s a day late and a dollar short, to show how much we care.

I’m thinking there are probably other, more impactful decisions on which the board could focus that would support the administration’s efforts to create an inclusive climate within the district.  I’m sure the students and families of children in our district who don’t feel included on the basis of their race or disability or religion or sexual orientation might have some better ideas where the board might focus their energy. I’m betting that who provides the pizza at lunch isn’t at the top of that list.  



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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