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The Sylvania City Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to terminate the district's director of food service for allegedly misreporting the number of free or reduced meals served to students during the the 2011-12 school year.
Superintendent Brad Rieger recommended before the vote that board members uphold the district's decision to terminate Savita Jindal for inflating the number of free or reduced meals.
Mrs. Jindal addressed the board for the first time before the decision, pleading that she did not purposely input incorrect numbers, but rather that the dicey reporting was because of a computer failure on the part of the LunchBox Program, which is used to tally the administering of those meals.
"Sylvania has been my home for 20 years...I have been a strong supporter as a parent and employee," she said, adding that the issue has caused her emotional stress.
The decision goes against the findings of an arbitrator in the case, Anthony Gretick, who recommended that Mrs. Jindal retain her position. Mr. Gretick was appointed by the Ohio Department of Education in August 2012 to hear both sides of the case. He noted in his opinion that the software used by the administration did not keep accurate record of the number of students receiving free or reduced lunches.
"We respectfully disagree with Mr. Gretick's decision," said Mr. Rieger in a phone interview before the meeting. "A lot of the points of the case were agreed upon in Mr. Gretick's opinion, but he did not agree with our course of action."
In the past months the school's administration and the board of education have been holding executive sessions to discuss the issue.
Board member Jim Nusbaum was absent.
In March, 2012, the school board voted to suspend Mrs. Jindal, who worked there about six years, without pay for knowingly misrepresenting the records . Mr. Rieger said the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio auditor were notified of the inaccurate records at that time.
"She had received prior notice regarding reporting issues before the March 2012 suspension. She received a written reprimand for misreporting inventory," said Mr. Rieger.
According to Rieger, Mrs. Jindal knowingly continued to misrepresent the accounts despite these notices, although she did not profit from the misrepresentation of information, he said. It is believed that she increased the amounts of the lunches in question to inflate the bottom line for food services, which normally operates at a deficit, he said.
The schools' annual budget for the food services program is about $2 million.
The school district has paid $1,940 to the Ohio state treasury for the monies they received from the state for lunches that were never ordered, according to Mr. Rieger, who added that he was uncertain of the total amount Mrs. Jindal misreported.
School Treasurer Laura Sauber said Monday that she did not have the total misreported figure.
The free and subsidized lunches are part of a federally funded program through the state.
Mrs. Jindal and her lawyer, Tom Sobecki, of Toledo, said they were disappointed with the decision. There was hope that they would not terminate her after representatives from Sylvania's Hindu community gave witness to Mrs. Jindal's commitment.
"We are a supportive community we are close to each other. Our Indian community is here to support her. We live by doing the right thing. We live day by day doing the right thing," said Rajiv Naik, president of local business Next Resins and a board member of Hindu Temple.
However, after a roughly 30-minute executive session was held the members approved the termination.
"We do have the utmost respect for the Hindu community," said board president David Spiess, but added that the actions of Mrs. Jindal were serious.
Mr. Sobecki said they planned to take the case to court and will seek back pay, along with any other damages the process has caused her. Mrs. Jindal's school salary in 2010 was $85,628.
Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-206-0356.