School Committee Seeking to Solve Food Service Deficit
The school department is looking to solve the $150,000-a-year deficit from its cafeteria services.
The North Kingstown School Committee is looking to solve its perennial black hole – the food services budget. For several years running, the school district’s cafeteria service has run $150,000 in the red, causing the school committee to make up the shortfalls in other sectors of the budget.
“It’s time we fix it,” said School Committee Member John Boscardin. “We need to stop putting Band-Aids on it. Stop putting duct tape on it. Stop putting bubble gum on it. We need to make it work.”
North Kingstown is the only school department in Rhode Island that does its food services in-house. All others have outsourced their services or have used the state-run program.
Last year, the school department raised prices of school lunches and subsequently saw a drop in the number of students buying lunch.
"We're reached the point of diminishing return in terms of raises prices for school lunches," said Boscardin.
According to School Finance Director Mary King, Rhode Island Department of Education’s contract with its food service vendor expires next summer. In anticipation of that, the state is going out to bid to update the vendor and expects to have a decision made on the change in early March. King said that if North Kingstown went with the state-run program, it could provide an “umbrella” for the district that would still allow NK to customize menu and staffing requirements.
Committee Member Richard Welch stated he didn’t “have a lot of confidence in state-run programs,” citing the state’s “catastrophe” with its busing services.
“I think we can do a better job than the state will do for us, frankly,” said Welch.
King said the NK could also go out with its own RFP to seek vendors for its cafeteria services. If the committee chose to go down that route, King would need the green light by late January in order to post and get the RFP out to vendors.
Committee Member Larry Ceresi highlighted that the district’s food services weren’t more than just serving and preparing food. North Kingstown food services include a vocational program for students and also has a partnership with special education students. If the vendor changes, Ceresi hoped that the educational components could be worked into the contract. Welch also added that a stipulation that current employees would be offered positions first be added if a new vendor is chosen.
The committee voted to table the matter until its next meeting on Dec. 11 as the school department continues negotiations with the support professionals union (which includes cafeteria service workers). The union (NK Education Support Professionals) has been without a contract for almost two years as both sides failed to reach an agreement earlier this year. Tensions were augmented when the school committee voted to outsource custodial services over the summer. The two parties are scheduled for another contract negotiation meeting on Dec. 6.