School board members plan to recommend a food service provider for the district at Monday night's public meeting.
"In reviewing the bids, the food committee scored the proposals with equal weight on nutritional improvements and financial competitiveness," said School Board Member Tanya Coke. "Under state accountability rules, districts must not run their food program at a loss, so our goal with respect to the finances is to achieve a break-even operation.
"With regard to food quality, we're looking for a further reduction in processed ingredients and additives, an emphasis on whole grain and whole meats, fresh vegetables, and appealing presentation," she added. "We're also exploring options for recyclable serving ware."
In April, the school board approved an almost $10,000 contract with a consulting firm to help put together a request for proposal for someone to take over the district's food service operation.
Coke, who serves on the board's food service committee, said at the time that the food service this year has improved in nutritional quality—but noted that student participation in the lunch program had not gone up markedly.
Dana Sullivan, the district's business administrator, said that if students keep refusing to purchase the school lunches prepared by Chartwells, the district's new food service provider this past year, the board could be faced with annual losses of up to $100,000.
Coke said that a consultant had suggested that the district consider ending its open-campus policy at Montclair High School that allows students to leave campus for lunch in order to encourage more students to purchase lunches from Chartwells.
But Coke said that the district wasn't yet prepared to take such a drastic step.
The Montclair Times reported this week that the school board was currently in discussion with at least two food-service providers, including Chartwells, and the West Coast-based Revolution Foods.
In June 2011, the school board voted unanimously to award Chartwells the food service contract.
The need for a change of food service providers came about last year in response to growing concern in the community about menu choices in school cafeterias. Many parents and students had expressed dissatisfaction in 2010 and 2011 with the food service provided by Aramark, the company that had provided school lunches to the district for the previous nine years. In March 2011, the group created a to demand changes to the school lunch program and sent a homemade video to various media outlets featuring children’s commentary on the subject.
The school district subsequently hired a consulting firm, Edvocate, to assist in the process of finding a new food service provider. Chartwells proposed a contract in 2011 that it said would not only improve the quality of food offered to students but would create a profit-based enterprise for the district.
During a discussion, Chartwells representatives Barbara Stank and Patricia Allegretto explained a profit-based contract would generate a guaranteed $30,000 for the first year of operation and those funds would, by law, be reinvested back into the program for capital expenditures. These expenditures would go toward equipment like steam tables and cold pans, and as the program grows, the schools could implement cooked food made “from-scratch” into the daily menu, which would ultimately create a more self-sustainable model of food service.
But now it appears that the school board is seeking to make changes again to the school lunches provided to the district in an effort to boost participation rates.
To read more about school lunches at Montclair High School, read this recent blog by student Lauren Glasse.
The public meeting of the Montclair Board of Education will be held on Monday, June 18, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium of the George Inness Annex at 141 Park Street.
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