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BHUSD Agrees to Outsource Lunch Services

Chartwells will provide lunches that the company promises will taste better and lure more students to eat on campus without increasing the district's costs.

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.

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Arya Boudaie July 25, 2011 at 11:30 PM
I remember when the lunch was $2.50, or $2.25 if you bought lunch tickets at the elementary school. Either way, hopefully this company actually has good food :)
Jodi Ticknor July 26, 2011 at 04:42 AM
I applaud the Board for making this decision. Now, I can only hope that the food is delicious, not processed and made fresh daily with organic fruits and vegetables (a parent can hope, right?). It's great that Chartwells is putting much needed funds into the kitchens. Thanks, Laurie for the exciting news!
toni July 26, 2011 at 07:08 PM
It is a necessary step in the right direction. I too, hope the food is less processed, fresh and organic. It will be interesting to see the Chartwells offering in the fall. Great info, Laurie
Lily Daisy July 26, 2011 at 07:16 PM
I'd rather pay $4 for a nutritional and tasty lunch than $2.50 for poor quality of food. Congrats to the Board for trying something better.
the suspect July 27, 2011 at 11:29 PM
Teachable moment... the schools should take advantage of the situation and let the kids create their own menus, based on criteria they themselves have learned and researched. including nutriional recommendedations, the good foods, the bad foods. etc. Good time to learn about calorie counts also. They have to decide whats not healthy not what some one tells them. Let them do the work From that point on they can create meals according to whats available and actually know how difficult it is to create a sound balanced meal, if they can let them in the kitchen. Let them vote on it Maybe it can inspire some students to become a nutritionist
Ellen Lutwak July 28, 2011 at 12:17 AM
And another opportunity for the Beverly Hills Farmers Market and the school district to partner. Fresh food, good lunches, community service, walk or cycle to the market, community gardens on campus, etc, etc.
toni July 28, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Yes, Ellen!!! Great post! Fabulous opportunity for BHUSD to partner with BH Farmers Market!!! Great way to move loads of fresh produce and organic products throughout the 5 cafeterias!!! And Community Gardens on campus where the kids help grow the food is another teachable opportunity in itself. All genius ideas long overdue. Great conversation in progress!

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