After years of mismanagement and monetary losses in food services, the Beverly Hills Unified School District's lunch program will be outsourced to one of the nation's largest school food companies starting this fall.
The Board of Education on Friday unanimously agreed to turn over management of the district's school lunch program to Chartwells, a division of the Compass Group, the largest food service company in North America. The five-year contract starts immediately.
Chartwells currently serves about 2.5 million students in more than 550 public school districts, according to its website, and its menus “meet or exceed” U.S. Department of Agriculture school meal guidelines.
In order to win the BHUSD's business, Chartwells agreed to provide a “cost-neutral” program, defined as a program that costs the district no money beyond its budgeted food program for each year of the agreement. The 24-page agreement is spelled out on the BHUSD website.
The BHUSD's food budget for year one of the agreement includes $650,000 for labor costs, $45,000 for vending machines, $10,000 for the necessary lunchbox systems software and $35,000 for general repairs and deferred maintenance to be shared equally between Chartwells and the BHUSD.
The district has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from its foods services program over the last two years. An of the lunch program conducted in January revealed numerous problems, including a lack of appropriate cash management supervision, no procedural guidelines for staff, overproduction of food, overpriced meals and a very low participation rate at all five city schools.
It is tempting for BHUSD to stop serving food completely, but the district is hamstrung by federal law requiring it to serve the 6 percent of the student population who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Furthermore, the district cannot identify these children, making it difficult to offer lunches solely to those students.
Chartwells will absorb the costs of supplying lunches to those students. It also pledged to invest up to $300,000 for capital improvements to the school cafeterias.
Because of Chartwells' experience serving food to students and other institutions, board members are hopeful that the company will produce better tasting meals that will encourage more students to eat in the cafeteria.
"Chartwells is assuming the risk that they can transform the program and boost sales sufficiently to generate a profit," board member Myra Lurie told Patch. "My main concern was whether food quality would be high, school lunch prices would not go up and the whole program would be revenue neutral. I am hopeful that Chartwells can achieve those objectives."
As a parent, I am disappointed to learn that the relatively high price of meals will remain the same. BHUSD lunch prices range from $4 for elementary school meals to more than $6 for high school students.
But Chartwells' vast experience serving schools makes it worth a try for the overburdened BHUSD. Let's see what happens this school year.