The Secret to Contract Success

business-vs-personal

In “Business vs. Personal” (December 2019), SN explored different perspectives on K-12 school foodservice contract management experiences. Detractors of this operational approach cite numerous examples in which a school district and its foodservice vendor parted ways, claiming broken financial promises or even fiscal malfeasance. There’s one simple way to keep relationships positive and productive: School districts must monitor the contracts.

Indeed, the law states very clearly that the school district remains responsible for compliance with National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program (NSLP/SBP) regulations even if it contracts out the foodservice operation and many of the administrative tasks. It is the responsibility of someone working for the local education agency (LEA), which is the school food authority (SFA) to oversee the work of the contract management company, including all data. “It’s in contract compliance where things tend to fall apart,” declares Barry Sackin, SNS, a longtime school nutrition consultant and procurement specialist.

In many school districts, however, one factor in making the choice to contract foodservice in the first place is because there is no one at the district level with the expertise (and/or time) to provide oversight on procurement, commodity processing, menu planning, food prep, service, reimbursements, staff training requirements and the many other aspects of managing the complex federal school meal programs. For some districts, if they had the capability to audit the contractor’s work, they might as well manage the foodservice operation itself.

Beyond the staffing limitations common to most small school districts, another barrier in contract compliance comes in the fundamental attitude toward school nutrition. “Those of us who are committed to self-operation are also committed to the idea that school meals are part of the education day,” explains Sackin. “Districts that outsource, often do so because they see foodservice as a business function. They don’t look at it as a key to the core mission of education.”

Kathleen Poor, CDM, SNS, a 27-year veteran of Aramark now working in a self-operated district, affirms this perception. “Many of the contracts I managed, the districts didn’t want to have anything to do with the foodservice business,” she recounts. “They just wanted to focus on the education of the students.”

Nonetheless, “It is very important that SFAs follow proper procurement and that they manage their contract,” says Rose Tricario, director, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Food & Nutrition. “It’s critical that they work and communicate with the management company to ensure a successful foodservice program.”

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