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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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NY firm wins bid to run schools' food service

Published 12:13 pm, Tuesday, May 13, 2014
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Whitsons Culinary Group, based in Islandia, N.Y., has been selected to run the food service in the town's 16 public schools.

"They will be transitioning into the role for July 1," Superintendent of Schools David G. Title told the Board of Education last week. "They will hold informational meetings with many of our staff members and hope to hire many of them on to continue."

The school district's food service now employs 72 people -- 16 cook managers (one at each of the schools) and 56 general workers. They are not members of a union. The cook managers' salaries range from $19.66 an hour to $23.99 an hour. Fifty-one of the general workers are paid $12.98 an hour, while the other five are paid $14.24 an hour.

Doreen Munsell, the school district's director of finance and business services, said Friday that Whitsons would offer current food service employees a job under that company's terms and conditions. A Whitsons' spokeswoman referred questions to the school district.

Munsell said the contract with Whitsons is for one year, renewable up to four times, and that there was no cost to the Board of Education. On its bid document, Whitsons estimated total income, from lunch sales and state and federal reimbursements, at $3.19 million, and total expenses, including a $90,000 management fee, at $3.05 million. Whitsons identified the "projected annual subsidy" by the Board of Education as "0."

Phil Ryan, a buyer in the town's Purchasing Department, said Friday that three companies initially bid for the job, but Chartwells, a division of Compass Group North America, had to be disqualified because it didn't include pricing on all of the required areas. The other company that bid was Sodexo Operations LLC based in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Ryan said an evaluation team that included town and school officials and parents visited an elementary school and a high school where Whitsons and Sodexo ran food-service programs. "We were all just on one school bus and we toured around," he said, adding that Whitsons had "excellent references." School districts in Connecticut where Whitsons operates the food service include Norwalk, East Haven, Oxford, Hamden and Ledyard, according to Title.

The Board of Education in August voted 6-2 to outsource the food service because it was not operating as a self-funded program and also because of the complexity of legislation on school lunches.

Paul Fattibene, one of two board members who voted against the motion on Aug. 27, said at the time that he didn't believe the board had enough information to outsource the program. The motion had been added to the board's agenda that night and was approved after only eight minutes of discussion. Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly, the other board member who voted in opposition, said at the time that she was concerned about the current employees' job security.

Whitsons is the fourth-largest food service management company serving kindergarten through 12th grade schools in the United States and its meals are "prepared from scratch daily," according to the company's website.