- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee yesterday said they plan to save roughly $10 million each year by outsourcing food services in the city’s public school system.

“The mayor and I want to introduce students to a variety of foods to help train their palates to choose healthier foods for the rest of their lives,” Mrs. Rhee said. “Good nutrition can certainly help enhance academic achievement.”

The District’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services — which provides pre-plated meals to elementary students and meals made on-site for high school students — produced nearly 9 million meals and snacks for students in D.C. Public Schools in fiscal 2006.

But officials said less than 40 percent of D.C. high school students in the nearly 50,000-student system eat lunches provided by their schools, while about 70 percent of high schoolers in urban school districts eat the lunches they are provided.

D.C. students have said they simply don’t like the taste and quality of the meals they are served. The shortfall has led to a loss of $9.5 million in fiscal 2006 and an estimated loss of $11.6 million in 2008 for the food service office.

“In order to effectively provide nutritious food that’s cost-effective, the administration has decided to turn to food service experts who have the capacity and expertise to provide this difficult, yet much-needed service,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat.

School officials on Sunday will open a bidding process for food service professionals to manage the system’s operations.

Companies will be required to take on the 222 full-time food service employees already in the school system and provide fresh-cooked food and new menus for high schools, as well as cooking equipment necessary for each school.

The winning proposal also must show a plan to eliminate the system’s food services cost deficit in future years, or pay the school system if greater deficits occur.

School officials also said they expect to expand a pilot program that last year provided new lunch menus at two elementary schools and two high schools in the city and resulted in increases in food sales and student participation.

For example, food sales at H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast — one of the schools included in the pilot — increased from $180 to $900 per day after the program’s first two weeks.

Officials also said they will work to ensure that more eligible students participate in a federal program that reimburses school districts for meals given to low-income students — another move that would help the city capture thousands of available dollars.

The District pays $1.68 for each pre-plated meal, while the federal government reimburses school districts $2.49 for each student eligible for the program.

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