Former Employees Ask Schools To End Relationship With Chartwells

Questions about the company's hiring, food safety record and cost are fueling the push to reconsider privatizing the food services department.

A group of former food service workers, buoyed by what they say is substandard service, is calling on the school department to end its relationship with Chartwells at the end of the school year and return to an in-house cafeteria operation.

“I encourage parents to take another look at who is serving their children lunch,” said Frances Campbell, a Wellesley resident and former head cashier at the middle school cafeteria.

“Their reputation is not up to par,” she said.

Campbell, along with four other women who had worked for the food service department before it was privatized in July, attended Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting to ask for their jobs back.

The women, all of whom say , are asking the School Committee to end its relationship with Chartwells and not renew the current one year contract.

Campbell’s comments came during the “citizens speak” portion of Tuesday’s School Committee meeting during which committee members listen but don’t comment on what is said.

In addition to Campbell, parent Virginia Bowditch said she also has concerns about Chartwells.

“I was very concerned with the Board of Health violations,” she said. “I’ve had a food borne illness and it was absolutely horrendous. And it is even more serious in children.”

Bowditch also said she had concerns about how the decision to privatize was made.

The former employees cite several reasons for the town to sever its ties to Chartwells.

First, they say the original reason for privatizing the department, which was to save money for the schools, has not been demonstrated.

Originally the School Committee heard estimates from the school business department of up to $75,000 in savings by privatizing food and laying off the 28 workers who prepared the lunches and ran the lunch lines in each of the town’s schools.

That estimate was not realized, according to estimates in last year’s budget, although the school department has repeatedly been unable to provide Wellesley Patch with an exact figure on the exact cost of the Chartwells contract.

Another reason given for privatization was the desire for healthier and “greener” lunches with locally grown produce, composting and recyclable lunch trays and materials.

It is unclear whether all of those assumptions have been met by Chartwells, which has not returned phone messages left with with the main office, but the former employees say those are all things that could have been provided in-house.

The decision to privatize was made a few months after the business office made public the discovery that .

Getting out from under the burden of collecting and accounting for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lunch bills was another impetus for privatizing.

But the online pay plan initiated by Chartwells had a rocky start. On top of that there were glitches in trying to get all the students, especially those in the younger elementary grades, on board with the program.

Compounding those problems, the Board of Health , something that never happened when food services fell under the jurisdiction of the school department.

“I am concerned about how this decision was made,” Bowditch said, adding that at first it was supposed to be to save money, but then changed to better nutrition.

She then asked why the town couldn’t implement an online pay plan similar to that used by the Recreation Department for parents to pay for lunches if bill collection had become a problem.

But for the former employees, the major reason they believe Chartwells has been a mistake for the town is because of the turnover in staff and impersonal service now provided.

“Do they do CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) checks on their staff?” Campbell asked.

“If it was not a financial benefit, then why did we do this?” Bowditch asked.

“(The former employees) knew the children, it was really like a family atmosphere,” Bowditch said. “That's what this town is all about.”

Jennifer Shor December 01, 2011 at 08:38 PM
I would be very happy if Wellesley could change back from Chartwell to the former employees. My children won't eat the Chartwell's food. One tried it and got pizza that was burnt around the edges, and she could not eat it. Her friend got a moldy orange and squished hot pocket that he could not eat. These are big turnoffs that make kids unwilling to take a chance on Chartwells food. When we hear that basic food handling practices have not always been practiced, it makes me concerned. Before school began, I put $400 in their accounts that now is not being used. Also, I think that every adult who interacts with the children is important. The kids look up to the adults in the school system, including the custodians, lunch servers and crossing guards. The adults are role models for the children, and there is value in having long-term, committed employees. Each positive interaction between school employees and kids benefits the kids and the sense of community we all strive for.
jc December 01, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Chartwell's performance should be properly examined by school committee. Did they save the town money? Did they use healthier options and bye locally? Did they use green packaging and dispose of materials responsibly? I think that the answer to all these questions are no, but School Committee should examine the situation. Also, why was decision ever made? I never heard of any complaints about the former staff? If it was in the judgment of the current administration that it would be better for the district it needs to be questioned. Chartwell doesn't appear to be what was promised and a bunch of people lost their job. School Committee needs to decide what they want to do.
Red Rover December 01, 2011 at 09:04 PM
MJ what have you not been reading or listening to in the last ten months? I suggest you go back and reread the many articles on the School Dept, The Business Administrator and her staff, the former cafeteria staff, and our beloved School Committee, that seemed to unaware as well. This vendor was brought in on the recommendation of two Administrators who will no longer have jobs in the Wellesley Public Schools. What don't you get? Chartwells blew it. They are not professionals and how many strikes does it take to call them OUT? When a child becomes very ill? What if it were your child? I would put my money on the former cafeteria workers, they are the ones that seem to be the honest ones and know what is really going on.
Sean Conneamhe December 03, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Yes, bring back the former school emloyees who have been loyal members of the Wellesley community. Chartwells is an impersonal, nation-wide cororation whose main concern is profits and not children.
Jack December 07, 2011 at 01:44 PM
The article says that the previous staff would have made the healthy changes, bought local and put out more appealing food last year...why didn't you? Plus, rodents just magically appear in the past 3 months? Please! Give the company time, and stop blaming all the wrongs of the past 20 years in the lunch program on the first 3 months with Chartwells. Ohh, and by the way...why didn't the GREAT lunch staff collect the $100k owed by students over the years?


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