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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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6/9/2011 9:50:00 PM
PUSD hires food service company to save money

Paula Rhoden
The Daily Courier

When Maureen Erickson ran for the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board, her platform included "finding ways to save the district money."

For Erickson, the rookie on the governing board, that campaign goal was at least partly realized Tuesday evening when the board approved a contract with Southwest Foodservice Excellence LLC to provide food service to district schools.

Erickson said the possibility of switching to a food service management company started in December while she was attending new board member orientation.

"There were vendors there, and everything I was learning was all new to me," she noted.

According to Chief Financial Officer Renee Raskin, the district has always used a food service director to provide meals at district schools. She said with the retirement of Food Service Director Bob Toomer, "this is a good time" to switch to an outside vendor.

Erickson told the Daily Courier after Tuesday's meeting that she spoke with the district's food service people "and subsequently learned that the district had been losing lots of money the past couple years. That money was coming out of M&O (maintenance and operations). I thought, 'There has to be a way to do this more efficiently.'"

On Wednesday, Raskin reported that the district spends $1.5 million annually for food service (food purchases, salaries and other related costs). The district will continue to spend that amount, minus the director's salary, plus an additional $6,900 to Southwest Foodservice.

The process of seeking an outside food service provider began with training from the Arizona Department of Education about the request for proposal (RFP) requirements. The district issued its request for proposals April 18 with responses due May 18.

The district received five responses and the RFP committee met May 19. After reviewing all the responses, the committee decided to have all five vendors make a presentation before selecting one provider.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Donald Gala from Southwest Foodservice told the board the company is an Arizona company with 11,000 employees and it serves 23 school districts. Southwest provides food service only to schools, he stated, and it focuses on nutrition.

"All the decisions we make are based on the best interest of the students," Gala noted.

The biggest change students will see, according to Gala, is the quality and taste of the food. "Presentation is what gets kids to eat," he said.

Although Southwest does use government commodities - food purchased by the USDA based on agricultural surpluses and price support activities to help American agriculture producers - Gala indicated that more food would be "cooked from scratch."

Gala told the board the company can adjust meals to student dietary restrictions, and it would add a fruit and vegetable bar at the elementary schools.

In addition to providing meals, Southwest will introduce a five-point training program that includes food safety, menu planning, reimbursable meals, cooking with recipes, and customer service.

The district employs 41 food service workers. Fifteen of the workers will continue to work for the district while the remaining 25 have the opportunity to work for Southwest.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joe Howard explained that the district would retain employees with five or more years of service because of the retirement program.

He added that Southwest typically pays its employees 3 percent more than the district salary, but to prevent employees working side by side at different rates, Southwest would abide by the district rate.

The employees that Southwest hires will receive benefits including healthcare, dental, vision and short-term disability.

Dawn Dattola, assistant food service director, told the board she is excited about the switch because of the on-site training available to employees.

The cost of meals will remain the same, and Raskin said the district would continue to process the free or reduced-fee lunch applications. What students, teachers and principals will see, she noted, is some menu changes.

Erickson said the change in providers would bring more money into the district and keep more students on campus.

"It is going to be so much fun. Lunch will be a fun, social time," Erickson said.

The governing board approved the contract by a vote of 4-1, with board member Dee Navarro abstaining because she wanted to see the proposal and contract before voting. "I don't think I have enough information to make an informed vote," she said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, June 11, 2011
Article comment by: lunch lady

Really Joe Howard, you asked this company to adhere to the district pay plan. We haven't gotten raises in over 3 years. You don't think that we deserve a cost of living raise by making twenty-one cents more per hour? Maybe you should give those 15 five year employees the opportunity to stay or go to SFE or hey here's an idea give them a 3% raise as well, it has been long enough.

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: Based on Performance

Why was the Food Service Director Bob Toomer allowed to keep his position if "he district had been losing lots of money the past couple years."? It is amazing how we will keep those around just because>
Human Resources Joe Howard explained that the district would retain employees with five or more years of service because of the retirement program.
Why not base who to keep by their performance? Why keep those who are in the retirement program, to benefit them? I thought it was about operating at a high level and at the lowest cost possible.
First time I agree with Dee Navarro, Get more info and demand some performance reviews before keeping employees on.

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: Tri-City Educator

Here we go again with the "top heavy" administrator complaints again. So, we just let schools run themselves? The district administrations in the area are spread so thin compared to like sized districts its incredible the job that they do and are not burned out. So, we combine schools? We could do that and have overcrowded schools and have to build new ones. That would cost taxpayers and that's not going to happen. Organizations and companies need leaders, just as schools and districts have.
And, yes, there is such a thing as cold bean salad.

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: To Tri- City Ed

There's food worse than HUSD's? They put cold canned veggies out on the salad bars - sounds similar to me. Prescott's kids are lucky to get some things made from scratch. That alone is a plus.

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: Really That Makes Sense

blah, blah, blah and no real numbers or info about planned meals. did you get rid of the losing prop Kids & Co. ? Are you making real cuts in the district office? ...

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: Roland Summit

Why not reduce the bloated number of administrators across the board at the three school districts in this area. Do we need so many superintendents earning the big bucks? Do we need so many principals, vice principals, couselors starting fires just to give themselves something to do putting those fires out?
Why not ask the "customers" (the kids where the money should go and who should get raises? I know why not, The administrators would find themselves updating their resumes.

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011
Article comment by: Tri-City Educator

I think this is a great move for the district. I have eaten at one of the elementary schools before and the meal was awful. They threw a bunch of broccoli in a tub and hoped that students would eat it. Contrasting this, HUSD has full salad bars at their schools and students have quality choices and have to pick something from the salad bar. More choices are also offered there and more meals are sold at the schools. Hopefully this food service company will match the quality and presentation of the food offered at HUSD and get back in the black with this department.

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