Fate of NG food service on the line
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By Carmen Ensinger
The North Greene School Board is leaving its options open as to who will be providing food service to the district’s students next year. The subject was discussed at the Jan. 18 school board meeting.
The district has been clearly unhappy with Organic Life, with whom the district contracted for food service this year, and since the contract they signed is only a one year contract, now is the time for the district to consider its options for the coming year.
Of course situations have changed dramatically since the district signed the contract with Organic Life back in July of last year, especially with the rise in the cost of food.
In looking to move to a food service to prepare and serve the district meals, the district sent out a Request For Proposals and received two bids – one from Organic Life, LLC and one from Oopa Food Management. Organic Life, LLC had the low bid at $699,356.24 while Oopa Food Management’s bid came in at $788,954.27, almost $90,000 more than Organic Life.
At the time, this bid of nearly $700,000, would be costing the district approximately $100,000 more than last year when the district provided the meals themselves.
According to documentation provided by District Treasurer Tiffany Mumford, rounding up the numbers, the prior year, food alone cost the district roughly $400,000. Add in the salary and benefits of the workers, which is around $200,000 and it costs right at $600,000 for the district to operate the program.
But Organic Life does more than just prepare and serve the food, they provide the staff. Cooks and serving staff are no longer employees of the district – they are employees of Organic Life. Organic Life also handles all of the ordering of the food, paperwork with the State, health inspections, etcetera.
At last month’s meeting, Organic Life CEO Jonah Falk stated that due to the increase in food costs that the district was lucky to have them.
“Had you not switched to us from self op you would be footing the $200,000 loss instead of me,” he said. “So, it saved the district a lot of money.”
In fact, he went on to say that districts who have not outsourced their lunch programs are having to fire teachers to pay for it.
“Due to inflation and rising food prices, districts that haven’t outsourced their lunch programs are having to fire teachers and cut support staff in order to support their lunch programs,” he said.
Superintendent Mark Scott said he had contacted the Illinois State Board of Education and they gave him the options.
“We can elect to do a new formal solicitation (request for bids) or go back to self-op,” he said. “But you need to decide what you want to do within the next couple of months.”
According to Scott, an email sent by Falk from Organic Life gives the message that they would understand if they didn’t choose to renew the contract.
“In this email, he basically said that it wasn’t that he didn’t want our business, but we will walk away if it is creating problems,” Scott said.
One board member inquired if there was an early termination clause within the contract. Scott said there was not. The contract simply expires at the end of June.
Board member Casey Nell was of the opinion to take a wait and see attitude, for the moment at least.
“I am of the opinion we should leave the door open,” he said. “Leave options open to see what else is out there. It doesn’t mean you are committed to do anything.”
Junior/Senior High Principal Brett Berry did give them something to chew on over the next couple of months, though.
“The one thing I can say is that it has been a nightmare operating with an entity outside our district,” he said. “Working with people who don’t work with our school has not been pleasant at times.”