Over the last month, the Burlington School Committee has had extended discussions on a potential food service management company for the district cafeterias. As reported by BNEWS last month, the committee voted to approve the sending out of RFPs (Request for Proposal), of which three companies responded. During the evalutation of the companies, Whitsons Culinary Group received the highest marks among committee members.
The conversation continued at the committee’s January 24 meeting. District Business Manager Nichole Coscia explained the benefits of going with a Food Service Company, which included expanded menu options, more access to food for students, and the guarantee of a profitable program, which would eliminate the risk of using funds from the school operating budget to cover a deficit at the end of the year. Coscia pointed out that hasn’t been an issue in recent years due to the pandemic, and the state’s free meals for students program, which is set to expire on June 30. Whitsons proposal included a guarantee of $90,000 surplus for the remainder of the year.
The majority of the committee members were in favor of the company’s proposal, however Committee Member Christine Monaco expressed concerns over where the money would be coming from, as students currently do not pay for lunches. Schools are currently being reimbursed for the lunches they serve. Monaco also felt this was being done in place of hiring a new food service director for the district.
“It’s very disappointing that we’re going in this direction,” said Monaco. “I do not see it as a cost savings. I see it as a substitute that we’re going to pay them instead of paying our own director, and I oppose that and I will be a no vote.”
There is currently an acting food services director in the schools, and Superintendent Eric Conti expects her to continue working in the district. Coscia went on to explain that food services companies earn their profit through their management fees, as USDA regulations do not allow them to mark up costs of food and labor.
Chairperson Katherine Bond expressed her concerns over the lack of information presented to the committee by Whitsons, and hopes that they can learn more on how the food service company can benefit them, so they can make a more informed decision going forward.
“You can have companies that come in and say we’re going to save you $90,000 a year or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year over what you’re currently paying, but if no one’s showing me where that’s coming from or they don’t know what we do or our background, you can say anything you want,” said Bond. “But if I’m not showing you my numbers and you’re not coming back to me, and showing me your numbers, to prove to me where that’s coming from, then it’s hard for me to leap 100% without having something solid to look at.”
Whitsons currently serves the communities of Lexington, Winchester, Wellesley, and Newton.
Committee Member Melissa Massardo expressed her support for Whitson’s.
“I can’t even imagine a scenario where we turn down a $90,000 guarantee for the year, I think that’s a huge win,” said Massardo. “I would love to see this move forward.”
After a lengthy discussion, the committee voted 4-1-0 in favor of moving forward with the RFP for Whitsons Culinary Group. You can view the segment of the School Committee meeting here.