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Mayor Challenged on Food Service Plan

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Mayor DeMaria (above) had a lot on his plate this week.

New Proposal Said to be Costly and Inefficient

By Josh Resnek

The mayor’s intrusion into the administration of the School Department showed its ugly side at Monday night’s School Committee meeting.

The mayor wants to remake the wheel by ending the school food delivery program with the Aramark company and attract a new company to do more at a much higher costs with no real return.

His effort to rethink the district’s food service has caused fear and consternation among 85 cafeteria employees all concerned about their jobs.

A large number of cafeteria employees attended the meeting wishing to speak only to hear again that the School Administration and the School Committee are bending to agree to the wishes of the mayor.

The mayor wants to end the city’s longterm contract with Aramark, who provides the management and skill to feed 7,000 public school children breakfast and lunch everyday.

Instead of reaching out to Aramark to extend their contract, he wants to change the playing field and the rules to attract other vendors for the $5.1 million contract.

The mayor has insisted that he doesn’t care if the school food programs lose millions of dollars a year if the food is healthier.

This, against the backdrop of the mayor publicly complaining that the city doesn’t have the money to sustain higher expenses.

“This is going to be a tough year,” the mayor said recently at a public meeting.

Attending the meeting Monday night was Dr. Omar Easy, sitting in for the mayor.

Maria Davis, Aramark’s Director of Child Nutrition Services, made a passionate and intelligent presentation to the School Committee.

But did anyone listen?

Not really, except for School Committeewoman Millie Cardello.

She seemed to understand what is at risk by changing this program.

She invited Davis and her cafeteria employees to the meeting.

Davis said everything can be changed and she and her employees can lead that effort.

But why change a program that makes $1.3 million a year for a new program that is going to cost the School Department almost $2 million, she asked.

“We have made $1.3 million a year after our expenses for many, many years,” she said. “Plug the information into a pro forma about the changes the mayor is asking for and the program will run at a deficit,” she added.

She spoke as well about the quality of the food now being served.

In as many words she said she and her employees can institute changes but to what end?

“We offer fresh fruits, low sodium meats, USDA/school breakfast and lunch. We use whole wheat bread. Ninety five percent of what the mayor is asking for Aramark already does,” she said.

She said the mayor had promised to meet with her and with the cafeteria employees two weeks ago.

“We have called the mayor’s office a number of times but with no reply,” she said.

She appealed to the School Committee about measuring the benefits of change for the sake of change instead of adding up all the plusses and minuses.

“You have to know what you have is really good right now,” she said.

She told of how the mayor said he’d like Everett to be doing what is being done in Chelsea with food for the school children.

“We (Aramark) run Chelsea,” she said. A new contract by a new vendor cooking 11,000 meals a day to be served in 8-9 minutes during hectic lunch periods is not an easy thing to pull off.

‘There are a lot of logistics,” she said.

The School Committee decided to proceed with the Request for Proposal and even decided to hire a consultant to make the wording right.

“We will do whatever you decide but volume cooking and food delivery…and at a profit… is hard to come by,” Davis said.

The School Committee will revisit the RFP effort in the weeks to come.

In the meantime the cafeteria employees worry about their jobs – even though the mayor has said no one will lose their job.

Dr. Easy said it well: “It is the intention for everyone to continue to have their jobs.”

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