The Board of Education voted 4-1 at a special meeting Wednesday for district staff to seek an agreement with Choicelunch through the remainder of the school year to provide lunch at Beverly Hills' K-8 schools, as well as pre-made meals at the high school to fulfill free and reduced lunch obligations.
The pre-made lunch would also have to be available to high schoolers wishing to purchase the meal at full price. Chief Administrative Officer Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard said the cost of going with Choicelunch solely for the K-8 schools would run the district between $200,000 and $280,000 a year.
"I cannot vote to spend $200,000 to $300,000 in additional expenditure on food services," said board President Brian Goldberg, the lone "no" vote. He noted the district had already approved an earlier in the year.
"We have vending machines on the campuses already," Goldberg said. "I'm ready to get completely out of the food service business and close up shop."
The rush to provide food service comes on the heels of Chartwells' announcement that it is breaking its five-year contract with the Beverly Hills Unified School District only a year after the agreement was made, with plans to stop serving food at city schools starting Nov. 16.
Murakawa-Leopard had been directed at the Oct. 23 board meeting to negotiate a contract with Choicelunch to provide lunch services at the K-8 level for a price that would not exceed $100,000 per school year. She said at the special meeting an agreement for that amount was not possible.
The board gave Murakawa-Leopard direction to continue negotiations with Choicelunch even if it will not provide food at Beverly Hills High School. The company traditionally does not offer food services at high schools.
When asked what would be available at BHHS if Choicelunch will not offer lunch there, Goldberg said the district would bring in "prepared branded food" on an à la carte basis.
"We are negotiating with companies like Subway or Jersey Mike's Subs," he wrote in an email to Patch.
There are about 4,400 students in the district. A total of about 800 students get school lunch at the city's K-8s, with some 400 high schoolers getting school lunch. These figures include those receiving free and reduced-cost lunches. About 6-10 percent of district students are eligible for free and reduced-cost lunch, while only about half of eligible recipients accept it.
"I cannot stomach a situation where we are simply out of the food business entirely with the exception of our free and reduced [lunch] obligations. I am not aware of any other district that says it's in such...a terrible position where they've eliminated their food services," board member Jake Manaster said. "I understand that at this point in time we may want to do the minimum. But that doesn't say to me that we are a high-quality, high-achieving school district."
To lower costs further, the board approved layoffs with a 5-0 vote, seeking to reduce district food service staff to 11 employees total. The board wanted to reduce that number further to 9 employees, but must do so when a revised proposal is presented at a future board meeting. At BHHS alone, there are currently 16 food service employees, meaning the possible elimination of 11 positions at the high school.
The board majority agreed the food services and proposed layoffs it's seeking are short-term solutions to get the district through the end of the school year.
"I believe we've got to provide something by Nov. 16," Superintendent Gary Woods said at the special meeting. "This is the best option we could find."
Do you agree with the district's handling of school lunch options? How do you feel about the proposed layoffs? Tell us in the comments section below.