School district changes food service provider

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In a move that officials say was necessitated by state and federal intervention, the food service provider for Cranston Public Schools has changed.

At the August School Committee meeting, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse brought forward the recommendation that the committee rescind its contract with Sodexo, and instead follow U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements and give the contract to Aramark.

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) requires that a food service contract be renegotiated every five years, and this year the committee received bids from Aramark, Chartwells and Sodexo.

While Aramark’s lower bid had initially received the highest score based on a review of the proposals and was recommended, questions arose, and committee members sought more time before making a final decision. Food service employees and others also voiced their support for Sodexo, citing the company’s record of giving back to, and building relationships with, the community.

Nota-Masse said after the district opted to stay with Sodexo, officials were notified that $2.5 million in federal funding could be jeopardized – and the district could face legal action – if Cranston’s schools did not accept Aramark’s proposal.

“The school committee voted to rescind Sodexo’s contract and instead awarded it to Aramark. The reasons were explained by our attorney, Ron Cascione, as well as by members of the school committee. Many employees of Sodexo were there and were upset. But, at the risk of losing federal reimbursement, we needed to do this,” Nota-Masse said.

Janice Ruggieri, who chairs the committee, was not happy with the decision. She said she has worked closely and diligently with Sodexo over the years to establish a strong relationship.

“I am not happy with the way RIDE handled this situation,” she said. “The delay in their final decision and their contract with the USDA is causing a scramble to get the employees set and for the food service program to be put in place for the upcoming school year. The potential for problems at the beginning of the year is unfair to our district and this should have been handled in a more timely manner. I am hopeful that Aramark will work to develop the strong community relationships that Sodexo has already forged and will live up to the expectations of the district.”

A statement on the Cranston Public Schools Facebook page reads: “As some of you may have heard, we will have a new food service provider this school year. We welcome Aramark to Cranston Public Schools as our food service provider. Aramark hired most of our previous staff, so the children will see many familiar faces in the cafeteria. Families will still be able to use Myschoolbucks for an online account and our free and reduced lunch services will continue as usual. Universal breakfast and breakfast in the classroom will continue in the same schools as last year.”

Aramark serves 21 districts in Rhode Island. Karen Cutler, the company’s vice president of corporate communications, said nationwide it partners with more than 380 school districts and serves more than two million children.

Along with the changes in menu and providers, Aramark is hoping to keep many familiar faces in the schools. The company has offered employment to all existing staff, and they have been doing so over the past week. Employees do need to pass a required background check and drug screening process.

“We have been working diligently with the staff and administration to have everything ready on day one. We have been in the K-12 industry for over 60 years and work with several hundred school districts so we have experience getting ready for service even in tight timeframes,” Cutler said.

Within the coming weeks, Cutler said, Aramark will be providing caloric and nutritional information for their foods through the Cranston Public Schools website, www.cpsed.net.

Cutler said Aramark is excited to be a part of the Cranston community and is looking forward to enhancing food and nutrition programs throughout the city. One way they are going to do this is with a chef competition as both the elementary and middle school levels.

They also are looking forward to working closely with PTOs and the Cranston community as a whole.

The local contacts for families are general manager Patricia Wright at wright-patricia2@aramark.com, and assistant food service director Kelly McKeon at mckeon-kelly@aramark.com. Aramark’s local contact number is 401-270-8069.

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