After a year-long struggle with the food services program in the Wellesley Public Schools, the School Committee on Tuesday, June 20, decided which of its three finalists to approve for the 2012-13 school year.
The committee voted to enter into contract negotiations with Whitsons School Nutrition to provide food services for the coming school year.
“The product they were able to deliver was actually quite excellent,” said School Committee Member Wendy Paul, who was part of the team that made site visits to test food from the three vendors who were finalists for the contract.
Interim Business Manager Judy Belliveau led the presentation of the food services contract at the School Committee meeting. She explained the search process, and how nine proposals were received. The number of potential companies was whittled down when only five came to a mandatory site visit in Wellesley. Aramark Education K-12 and Sodexo Education made the final three along with Whitsons.
“It’s a very prescribed process,” Belliveau said. “It can be daunting. We looked for who fit us. We looked at their satellite operations.”
The contract will be for one year at $90,000. Whitsons will also invest $57,174 in upgrading equipment.
The situation with the food services program in the Wellesley Public Schools began last year when Chartwells was given a one-year contract to run the program. Right from the start there were problems, including when the Board of Health found food temperature violations in the Middle School cafeteria right before the start of the school year, officials said.
It appeared Chartwells was going to have its contract renewed back in March, however, many parents voiced concerns through a survey, saying they were against the Chartwells contract being renewed. At that point, the School Committee decided to seek a new company. Chartwells did send in a proposal for next year, but was not chosen as a finalist.
“The process really began in January when we were feeling the loss of community support and there were issues around the current vendor that we needed to address,” School Committee Member Diane Campbell said. “We did not initiate the parent survey, but we certainly took into account what the PTO did. We watched and listened to people- staff, parents and students.”
Belliveau called the entire process “inclusive,” noting the range of people who took part. The past six weeks involved spending time observing the finalists at other schools, talking to vendor supervisors, getting feedback from principals, tasting the food and more.
School Committee Member Suzy Littlefield also pointed out that the team learned something from this past year that they’ll use to improve the program.
“We need to get the Health Department involved very early,” she said. “We should’ve done that last year.”
Students are now out of school for the summer, but, pending the finalization of the contract, the vendor for next year’s food services program is set.
“We looked at what we needed for our schools… and we made a recommendation,” Paul said.