School board committee eyes outside food venture

9/2/2013
BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sykes
Sykes

A Toledo Board of Education committee recently requested proposals to partner with an outside company to manage Toledo Public Schools’ food service program, a move one union leader characterized as the first step in privatizing district food service.

The district, after discussions by the board’s food service committee, sent out a request for proposals for a company to operate the food service department. Only one company, Philadelphia-based Aramark, responded, TPS business manager Jim Gant said.

Committee chairman Larry Sykes said the committee is simply looking for a corporate partner to help the district provider better service for students, possibly by bringing back hot meals and expanding healthier options. He points out that the proposal specifies food service workers would remain employed by the district under the proposal, and that more meals sold would lead to more work for staff.

“If our people can figure out how to provide a hot meal to kids, then great,” he said. “But we don’t we have the means or the equipment to do that.”

Dave Blyth, TPS staff representative for the union that represents food service employees, was critical of any plan to privatize the management of the department, and said the current system works well. The only way a for-profit company could make money from food service would be to cut costs, he said, which would invariably mean hurt the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees members in the department.

“It’s my position that no school system should allow a situation where a for-profit company comes in and makes a profit off of feeding children,” Mr. Blyth said.

Mr. Blyth also said privatization of the department’s operations could ultimately lead to a total outsourcing of food service in TPS.

Mr. Sykes rejected characterizations of the request for proposal as the first step toward outsourcing, and said he would not push a plan, but instead wants to come to an agreement between the board, district, and employees. He framed the committee’s conversations as simply an attempt to improve service for students and provide better, more nutritious meals that children want.

For years, food service has run deficits and required subsidization by the district’s general fund. Recent efforts, such as a push to increase breakfast sales, has greatly reduced that deficit.

There are several steps the district would have to take before the full board of education even considered contracting for food service. First, the food service committee plans to have Aramark make a presentation this month about its proposal. The panel wants to reach out to other firms for other options. And the committee would then vote on proposals, and possibly send one before the full board.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.