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Viewpoints

Savings to be had in ConVal’s food service

The default budget is forcing the question of choices. What will actually benefit education?

Daniel Krason’s recent letter suggests that the present ConVal Food Service must be maintained despite its large annual losses because it provides a “fair wage” and “healthier food.” The facts?

While on the School Board, I spent a year heading up a committee to study the problem. Bidding it out to see what could be done was the obvious solution. Two outside companies submitted bids in December 2010 and each would have provided an end to the large annual losses, even a net income that could have been used to reduce meal prices for the students.

Under heavy lobbying pressure from the ConVal food service workers, the School Board voted to give them a year to turn their annual losses around. The losses in the subsequent three years: $212,000, $266,000 and $329,000. Looks like the wrong direction to me. Actual sales have declined steadily.

In the meantime, the outside provider under consideration in 2010 has eliminated all losses for a neighboring school district.

The details of the proposed outside bid were as follows:

All food service workers would be kept on and would get three percent raises, the same as ConVal was offering. Health insurance would be continued with workers paying 20 percent of a less expensive policy — the outside company purchases insurance on a much larger scale and can get lower premiums.

The workers would lose participation in the state retirement system, but would have a 401k plan instead with a company match. If they were vested in the state system, they would continue to be vested. If not vested, they would receive 100 percent back of their own contributions in a lump sum, or roll into the new 401k.

How is an outside provider able to maintain these wages and benefits and break even when ConVal cannot?

As a large company, they have economies of scale in everything: food purchases, management support, insurance, all aspects of the overhead in running a business.

Plus they seem to know how to increase participation.

Fresher and healthier are now federal regulations, making it much more difficult for small providers such as our in-house people. While ConVal experiments with new menus and suppliers, these professional companies already know how to meet those standards and provide the healthy menus that students will actually eat.

So which would you prefer? The current food service program, or the new iPads?

Gail Cromwell lives in Temple.

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