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State College Area School District Cancels Contract with Papa John's

by on September 13, 2018 9:05 AM

For at least 15 years, Papa John's has been the vendor for the popular pizza day at State College Area School District cafeteria's. For the 2018-19 school year, at least, that will not be the case.

The school board voted, 5-4, on Wednesday night to cancel a contract with the local franchise of the pizza chain for the upcoming year. The vote came on a recommendation from Superintendent Bob O'Donnell and Finance and Operations Officer Randy Brown, who cited comments by Papa John's founder and former chairman John Schnatter as "inconsistent with our district’s School Climate and Inclusive Excellence Policy."

Schnatter resigned from Papa John's in July after it was revealed he used a racial slur on a conference call in May.

District policy allows for cancelation of contracts within 30 days of approval. Megan Schaper, SCASD director of food services, will lead the collection of new price quotes and a blind taste test by elementary and middle school students. The results will be presented to the board for a new bid award.

O'Donnell said that "based on Papa John’s corporation’s proposed restorative practices as well as the local franchisee’s commitment to inclusivity," the district plans to include the local franchise for bid consideration next year. He said he has been in touch with the local franchise owner, which is not based in State College.

"We’ve been really trying to improve relationships with the community, and I really believe that if we do this for this time period only that would help," O'Donnell said. "My reason for bringing this forward is solely on families we’ve been working to improve relations with and we’ve struggled at times as a community."

The board initially approved the contract, 5-4, at its Aug. 13 meeting. Papa John's was selected for meeting price criteria and because of its popularity with students.

But several board members raised concerns at the time about continuing the contract because Schnatter remains part owner of the corporation.

"I do have a hesitation with Papa John’s when Schnatter is still one-third owner of the corporation," board member Lori Bedell said. "There’s sort of a moral objection to handing that man our money."

Amy Bader said that while the local franchise owner is not responsible for Schnatter's remarks, she was concerned about the message it might send to younger students, who may be aware of the comments but not understand the difference between the corporation and the franchise.

Bedell said that whether or not the contract was approved, it should be an opportunity for dialogue with students.

"Either way we will be able to have a conversation with kids, over pizza," she said.

Other board members, however, said they did not want to punish a franchise owner for a situation over which they had no control. Board member Scott Fozard said in August that if the contract was dealing directly with the corporation, he would be in favor of rejecting it.

"It’s not a corporately owned store and I’m not comfortable if we go down the path of holding people accountable for something they really have no involvement in," Fozard said at the time.

On Wednesday, Fozard, said that the board had already approved the contract and nothing has changed since then to reverse the decision. 

"We’re asking the local franchisee to pay the price for actions that were entirely out of his control," board member David Hutchinson added. "To me that strikes me as unfair and not just. I don’t see the justice in that."

But Bedell said that continuing the contract this year sends the wrong message to community members.

"Good intentions of the franchise owner aside, I don’t think we can avoid the message this sends to members of our community who are not represented here, who are in a limited way represented in our administration," Bedell said. "I think we have a responsibility to be a voice for those people whenever we possibly can."

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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