School Committee unanimously votes to explore privatization of food services

May 22, 2014

Though several members of the community voiced displeasure over the possibility of Wareham privatizing the food service program at its schools, the School Committee still voted unanimously to support the request for proposal process.

Despite their decision, several members of the Committee as well as Superintendent Kimberly Shaver-Hood agreed at Wednesday's meeting of the School Committee that nobody wanted to see their current service go, but that it was in their best interest to at least look into their options.

The service has been known to be successful in the past, but it saw a loss of around $20,000 in 2013 and is expected to lose about $60,000 for this current school year.

“We’ve made every effort this year to increase participation and reduce costs,” said Shaver-Hood, noting the increasing expense of healthcare and strict nutritional guidelines as examples of reasons for the losses. “My recommendation is to explore our options to issue an RFP to review the benefits of outsourcing.”

She said that included the formation of a subcommittee, as well a continued effort to review the current program and to seek ways to keep the services in-house.

According to Shaver-Hood, the timeline for the RFP process would include an initial request to be prepared by May 26 and a mandatory walk-through with potential bidders for June 10 with any proposals expected to be back by June 20.

Jim Durkin, a union representative for the current food service workers in Wareham with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 93, presented several arguments against privatization, including an example in Chelmsford where workers hired by a private vendor either stole or were found to be involved with drugs.

“I’ll ask you all to ask yourselves—are these the kind of things you want to bring to Wareham?,” said Durkin.

Current food service manager Jean Smith argued a variety of points to the committee as well, saying that the current employees had worked their hardest to reduce the losses and that it was "a perfect storm" of events that led to the deficits.

“[The food service program] has not finished in the red for almost 20 years,” she said, expressing her disappointment in the decision to put out RFPs. “I’m embarrassed to say I live in this town. “I’m not willing to keep funding the mismanagement (as a taxpayer) that's gotten us into that position.”

“Nothing is written in stone here,” said committee member Melvin Lazarus, who said though he wasn’t particularly in favor of outsourcing the department, it would be in schools' best interest to at least explore other options. “Thats part of what we have to do…We’ve got a lot of research to do.”

Committee Chair Clifford Sylvia said that he was “lukewarm” to the idea of privatization, but agreed that it should at least be explored.

“We have to have all of the facts in order to make and educated decision,” he said. “The only way is to put out an RFP.”