Food fight over nutrition program
In an effort to save about $400,000 this year, school district representatives are meeting today with outside food-service providers to replace the lunch and breakfast program.
However, critics are saying the cost savings are exaggerated and not worth the price students will pay with their health.
“We can fix what is wrong with our school nutrition within our community,” said parent Mary Covington. “Outsourcing is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. You’ll be hurting the kids who need nutrition the most. Let’s not do that to these kids. They’re wonderful. They’re magical.”
After a series of meetings with the public to discuss ways to cut the budget, the Carson City School District formed a strategic advisory committee last summer made up of parents, school staff and other community members.
The committee has been investigating various ways to cut spending in response to decreased federal and state revenue.
One possibility, said Superintendent Richard Stokes, is to contract the nutrition services to an outside company.
He said nutrition services is not self-sustaining, with the district budgeting up to $700,000 annually from the general fund to cover costs.
“That’s money that could be spent in the classroom,” Stokes said. “If you can take that away, and put it back into the classroom, that’s very appealing.”
However, Kathy Monet, vice president of the Carson Educational Support Association, said her union provided the district with documented cases across the country where the food-service providers have not lived up to their claims.
She also went to look at the food served in Washoe County schools, which contracted with an outside service but will not be renewing the contract.
“We’re totally concerned about quality,” she said. “The quality was far less than what we serve our children. The food won’t taste as good, and it won’t have as high of a nutritional value as ours does.”
Stokes said the contractor would have to meet the same federal and state guidelines.
“These companies do this for their living. This is their business,” he said. “It’s my expectation they would put high quality foods in our schools.”
Although Stokes said the intention is to retain the current food-service employees, Monet is skeptical.
“Those companies are notorious for making a lot of money by bringing in their own workers at a low wage who are not trained,” she said.
Representatives from Campaign for Quality Services, a campaign organized by the SEIU union to help food-service workers, have been making an appeal to Carson City residents in recent weeks to oppose selecting Sodexo as the outside food provider. They claim the company ends up costing the school districts more money, while also hiring untrained, low-paid workers.
Sodexo is one of three companies being considered in the Carson City School District.
“Other school districts have had trouble with outside contractors – like Washoe County, who announced earlier this month that they’re cutting ties with Sodexo. Tell the school board that Sodexo isn’t the right contractor for our school district,” was part of an e-mail sent out Wednesday urging people to contact school district officials and school board members to voice their concerns.
A presentation will be made at Tuesday’s school board meeting about the plan. A recommendation is scheduled to be made to the board at the May 25 meeting.
“This is a potential change and folks are always going to be a little wary of doing things differently,” Stokes said. “I believe it’s the responsible thing to do to look at more efficient ways of doing things.”
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