Board of Ed Scrambles to Fix School Lunch Program

With Chartwells breaking its five-year contract with BHUSD only a year into the agreement, the school board looks for a way to feed students before food services stop on Nov. 16.

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.

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norah November 04, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Why can't kids bring lunch from home?Parents could have more control over child's nutrition. I preferred bringing my lunch from home.
Phil M November 06, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Norah, I wish it was that easy. There is one county out there who is thinking about paying parents to just open up report cards. It is ridiculous that we have parents who don’t care and so schools have to take a proactive approach on this. I just wish we would give healthier options to our kids. A lot of studies have shown that feeding kids a better meal helps in test scores and behavior. If we are going to feed them we should not feed them the same crap they are eating outside. If you are going to take advantage of this service you are going to eat healthy. If you don’t want to eat healthy we save money and they bring their lunch. ________________________________________ Find a Career College near you, www.americolleges.com
LMills November 06, 2012 at 07:29 PM
For all of you who seem to have so much free time to complain, make erroneous, rude, and accusatory comments - just curious, do you volunteer your FREE time every day like a board member does? Or do you simply voice your uninformed opinions thinking that you are actually helping the situation? Do any of you attend the public board meetings or contact your board members to truly have an understanding of what the truth is? Maybe if all parents in this district used their time wisely, to help work together as a community, to volunteer, to at least act like you care, to bother to feed their own children and be responsible for their children's own behavior and actions, we would be better off. BHUSD is not a restaurant; it is a learning environment for a public education. If you want it to be GREAT, you need to pay for it!
leeving November 07, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Wow where do I start, Bitter much? If the truth is erroneous,rude or accusatory then prove me wrong! I feel pretty good about my chances. Yes I volunteer and yes I attend the Board Meetings for as long as I can stay awake for. OK back to the topic at hand. As parents we are not asking for hand outs we are asking that our children have the option to feed there bodies as well as there minds. When done correctly a lunch program should not have a negative impact on the general fund. Most School Districts in California seem to be able to make this happen. Quick point at all our Schools on the days when major testing is done, The PTA sets up places in front of the Schools for our children the get something to eat before taking those tests. As Parents,Teachers,Administrators and Board Members we need to lead by example. So are these the example we want to set for our children ? And LMills you are right BHUSD in not a Restaurant. It's a Cafe at least until November 16
bowlcut November 15, 2012 at 07:42 AM
Wow, just wow. What a mess! All I can think about is all the money they spent/spend fighting the metro "for the sake of the health of the children" and yet they can't get it together to have food service contracts sorted out? Food service which actually impacts the health of our children on a day to day basis. It's not about money, it's not about who volunteers more, it's about priorities. Get them straight.


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