PLAISTOW — Timberlane district school officials will be looking at the possibility of having the district run its own food services program rather than using an outside food services management company.
For the past seven years, an outside vendor has managed the district’s food services program. And for the past two years, that company has been the Whitsons Culinary Group.
Last week, Superintendent Earl Metzler asked the Timberlane School Board to consider a contract renewal for Whitsons.
However, after hearing from several district elementary school cafeteria managers express their desire to have the district move back to a self-operated food services program, the board delayed taking any action on renewing the contract until its May 22 meeting.
The extra time will give Metzler the opportunity to gather more information about moving to a self-operated program and hiring a district food services manager for the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.
Metzler said he would investigate and provide information about a change in the food services program, but moving to a self-operated model is not without risk.
“The key here is that without (Whitsons) we’d have to hire a manager, so there would be costs associated with it,” said Metzler.
Metzler praised the job done by the district’s cafeteria managers, but said it could be very difficult to find a qualified food services manager to oversee the entire program in such a short time period.
Several of the cafeteria managers said they feel that turning back to a self-operated program would benefit the district.
“We’ve done self operation in the past, and we were always a self-supporting program,” said Pollard Elementary School cafeteria manager Deb Waters. “We didn’t get money from the district and the program ran very smoothly without a management company.”
Waters said there have been some issues with the management company, ranging from deliveries of subpar produce to Whitsons keeping tight controls on what can and cannot be served on the menu.
Metzler noted that while there have been issues, Whitsons has always been willing to work with the district whenever issues have been raised.
School Board member Michael Mascola made a motion not to renew the contract and move forward with a self-operated program last year, but that motion was taken off the table after Metzler said he would be willing to see if Whitson could extend the date for the contract renewal to the end of June.
In that time, Metzler said he would work with district business administrator George Stokinger to explore the viability of hiring a district food services manager.
Even with a possible extension, School Board member Robert Collins said he wasn’t comfortable with the district changing the food services program on short notice and suggested the district renew the Whitsons contract for one year and explore the benefits of going to a self-operated system for the 2015-16 school year.