Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Board Debates Food Service Contract (an edited version of a previously posted article)

Note: Tuesday night I attended the Board of Education meeting. While still at the meeting I filed a post about testimony given by the public on the potential budget cuts, and the response from Board members and the Superintendent. 

 I remained at the meeting for other business while the room cleared. I stayed long enough to see the Board vote on the non-renewal of contracts for fifteen non-tenured teachers. And I stayed for the discussion on hiring a food service management company for the schools. That's when the trouble began. 

 Below is an edited version of the story I posted. When I left the meeting, it appeared as if the Board had decided not to accept the proposal for food services offered by Sodexo. In that case, the Board would had to have hired a food service manager, contracted for food vendors, purchased equipment and created a management program in the next three months. Otherwise there would be no food service available for students at any of the schools when they opened in September. 

 The Board chair Vinnie Loffredo, ended the debate by saying "Anyone interested in this motion (which was a standing motion offered by Loffredo and seconded by Cheryl McClellan)." When no one responded, Loffredo called a recess so the room could be cleared for executive session. 

 What happened next was that the board re-entered the room, did not vote immediately to go into executive session, though the room had been cleared to do so, and the televised portion of the meeting had been ended. Instead the board continued to debate the Sodexo offering, and after hearing testimony that it would be impossible to create an internal food services organization in the time left before the new school year, voted to accept Sodexo's proposal. 

 The vote was five to two with Sheila Daniels and Linda Szynkowicz opposing the offer. I offer this prologue,and an edited version of the story to help readers understand the correction printed in the Eye today, and to demonstrate what can happen when a board or commission declares they will be going into executive session, dismissing the public and the press, and then, after the fact, deciding that they still have public business to attend to. 

 Here's the edited version of what happened before the recess.

 In a display of indecision that appeared to frustrate the Superintendent of Schools Pat Charles, and the Director of Operations, Marco Gaylord, the Board of Education failed to take an essential vote Tuesday to accept a food-service contract for food services in the district next year. The result: the Board appeared to miss an absolute deadline set by the State Department of Education, meaning the board would have to attempt to recruit and hire a food services manager in less than four months, contract with a food purveyor,purchase equipment and set up a food services system of the school.

 Months ago, the Board directed the districts Director of Operations, Marco Gaylord, to institute a request for bids for food services in the district. Gaylord did so, under strict state guidelines which require walk-throughs and full financial disclosures by and for potential bidders. When the bids came in, only one company, of four who were originally considered, made an offer. The successful bidder was Sodexo, the current operator.

 Gaylord provided the proposal information to the board, and indicated a decision had to be made immediately, because the state had delivered the RFP requirements late, and a deadline of April 12 (Tuesday night) was imminent.   Some members of the board expressed dismay that the impending deadline did not provide them the opportunity to further debate the food services offer.

 Board member Sheila Daniels complained about the quality of food, and the ongoing annual deficit. Gaylord explained that the deficit could almost wholly be attributed to the cost of labor, wages and benefits. Sodexo, as required by the Middletown bid, would only provide management services for the food services department, along with the ability to purchase food and supplies at a substantial discount. The labor consists of local, long-term, union, city employees, whose wages and benefits affect the annual cost of providing food services. Those wages and benefits are negotiated by the city (mayor's office), and approved by the Common Council, and not by the Board of Education.

 Board member Linda Szynkowicz complained that it seemed weird that only one vendor responded. Gaylord didn't have a ready answer, but Superintendent Pat Charles speculated that the requirement to use local employees, and the number of RFPs in other districts likely had some effect. Board member Marilyn Dunkley indicated that she felt the quality of the food was not appropriate, given her experience as a professional chef. She indicated that the food should be presented better. Board member Chris Drake indicated he was leaning toward a "no" vote because he had heard some people say the food was good, some say it was bad, and wondered why food services couldn't be handled by an internal manager. He also asked what other districts did for food services.

 Superintendent Charles indicated that it would be difficult, if not impossible to hire an internal manager at this late date, and have appropriate food services available to students in September, given the attention that had to be paid to the current budget crisis in the next few months. She suggested accepting the contract for another year, during which time the Board could study the possibility of hiring an internal resource.

 Deborah Cain agreed with the Superintendent and urged the board to support the Sodexo proposal for a year, and to use the intervening year to explore alternatives. Gaylord explained that his charge was to execute the RFP, and not to study the possibility of bringing the resource in-house.

Board chair Vinnie Loffredo agreed that Gaylord had executed his charge as required, legally, and in full transparency, then asked if the Board could offer Sodexo a six-month contract. Gaylord indicated that he believed the entire RFP process would have to start from scratch to offer the same terms to all vendors.

When Loffredo asked for a motion, no member of the board offered to make the motion to accept the proposal from Sodexo. Loffredo offered the motion himself, which was seconded by Board member Cheryl McClellan. After more debate, Loffredo, in apparent fatigue and frustration, asked: "Is anyone interested in this motion." Without calling for a vote, he said, "This motion is going nowhere," and called for a recess in anticipation of an executive session.

The room was cleared of public and press for executive session, but thinking better of the district's ability to hire an internal manager on a timely basis, the board voted to accept Sodexo's proposal for a year. After the food services vote, the board voted to go into executive session.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the BOE just contract with Sodexho for the whole thing? The cafe workers, over whom they have no control, are not BOE employees - in essence the BOE "contracts" with the city for these costly folks over which they have no control. So why not contract with some other entity where you get a better deal, like Sodexho? Tell the city that they won't fund them, and because there is no employer/employee relationship in the eyes of the law, there's no recourse with the BOE for the employees to take to the labor board.