Food Services in DC Public Schools is Changing

Posted by on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 at 6:01pm.

Food services in DC Public Schools (DCPS) is changing due to staggering financial losses. In the 2011-2012 school year, the food services loss for all DCPS schools totaled $14.35 million. 

When DCPS operated its own food service in the 2007-2008 school year, schools were losing about $80,000 per year. But when a new vendor, Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, took over food service, those loses skyrocketed to $115,447, and later stabilized at a deficit of $90,000 per school each year. Other local school systems do not suffer the same losses. In fact, some like Montgomery County, profit from their food services to the tune of $2 million. But Chartwells disputes the numbers in the DCPS food services audit.

DC public schools have aggressively promoted healthy foods. “The DCPS Office of Food and Nutrition Services believes in serving students whole, primarily unprocessed, high-quality, natural foods which are prepared and presented in an appetizing manner.” Often, this means that they are purchasing organic foods, which are more expensive. But DCPS prides itself on having a higher quality of food than most other school districts. According to DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, “We've made an investment in our children's nutrition, and you can't say you want healthy food and not be willing to pay for it.”

The DC public schools provide more than a single lunch meal each school day. Rather, they provide three meals a day -- breakfast for some children, lunch, and an afternoon supper program. The breakfast and supper programs started in August 2010 after the DC Council passed the DC Healthy Schools Act. Currently, breakfast is available in 94 out of 119 schools, and after school supper is available in 93 schools. The breakfast program at DC public schools is very successful with the highest participation rate in the country.

Before the holidays, DCPS held a hearing to assess the food service contract through 2012. Chartwells had a cost reimbursable contract with DCPS where they are reimbursed for all their expenses. In addition, Chartwells recieved an annual management fee and a small fee for each meal. DCPS has now created a new pricing structure to their advantage in which they will pay a fixed price for each meal regardless of the vendor’s expenses. DCPS has sent out a request for proposals with the new contract terms. The school system is looking to save money, but does not expect food to be a revenue source.

Food services within DCPS are certainly under serious scrutiny by the Council. But the final changes remain to be decided for food services in DC public schools.

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