School lunch cannot keep going in the same way it has been for the last 20 years, and the article below is more proof of that. Until parents, school administrators, and food service companies are ready to make real changes to improve the quality of school, we'll see more and more stories like that of the Columbus City Schools below.
Private food-service vendor Sodexo will pull out of its $13 million-a-year contract with Columbus City Schools on Dec. 21, putting an end to the firm’s effort to serve Ohio’s largest school district.
The contract, which started in the 2009-10 school year, contained a provision for Sodexo to opt out, and the company is taking it, said district spokesman Andrew Marcelain.
Sodexo officials wouldn’t say why they are pulling out.
In a written statement, the firm, based in Maryland, said it has met repeatedly with the district “to find a mutually beneficial framework to continue our relationship.”
Sodexo is ending the relationship “after much discussion and review of alternatives,” the company said.
Marcelain said Sodexo is “committed to work with us through the winter break” so there is a smooth transition to the district taking over the work.
District spokesman Jeff Warner said Sodexo employs eight people who work in the district to plan meals that meet nutrition guidelines; order all food and supplies; and assess schools for how service could be improved. The district doesn’t expect to hire any staff to replace those people, and it doesn’t expect food service to be disrupted, Warner said.
Food-service workers are district employees, but the Sodexo employees purchase the food and plan about 60,000 meals that are served each day, including 35,000 lunches. The program feeds about 70 percent of students. Because of its size, Sodexo can purchase food at a lower cost than the district can, officials said.
Because much of the food-service operation’s costs are fixed, Sodexo thought it could improve the bottom line by getting more students to eat meals. That strategy apparently has failed.
Sodexo’s contract requires the company to pay the district for any money lost in the program. Two years ago, Sodexo paid the district $1.7 million to close an end-of-year gap. The payment for last school year hasn’t been announced yet. The firm rewrote the contract to limit its loss to no more than $500,000 in the future.
In return for the risk of a loss, Sodexo initially was to have collected up to 7.5 percent of any “profit” made on the district’s food-service program, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture vetoed the plan. The food-service program gets the bulk of its money from the federal free- and reduced-price-lunch program, which is administered through the USDA.
School board member Stephanie Groce, who pushed for changes in the money-losing food-service program before Sodexo was hired, said that Sodexo failed to stem the losses because it didn’t control salaries and benefits.
The district is “going to have to look at everything” if it hopes to bring the program into the black without dramatically raising student food prices, Groce said. Students who pay full price currently pay $2 to $2.50 for a lunch, depending on their grade level.
-Saturday October 8, 2011; By Bill Bush; The Columbus Dispatch