School lunches may see price hike

Trustees want to offset deficit in food program

The cost of buying a hot lunch at schools in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District may be going up, as members of the School Board examine ways to trim a large deficit in the food service program last year.

At an Aug. 4 special meeting, the board heard a recommendation from district staff that they should approve a $.50 increase across the board in the price for a hot lunch. The increase would bump elementary school lunches from $3 to $3.50 per meal, and middle and high schoolers would jump from $3.50 to $4.

The initial suggestion of the increase comes from Chartwells, the food service provider for the school district. Chartwells was hired last year to replace Sodexho, ostensibly to provide better and more nutritious meals to district students.

However at the end of the first year with Chartwells, the district found itself with a $300,000 deficit in the food service fund. Figures from Chartwells indicate that if the meal prices stay as is, the district will see a $236,686 shortfall for the 2009-10 school year.

School Superintendent Steve Enoch said increasing prices for school lunches is not what he wants to do, but the district can't afford another year of losing money on the program.

"We're still trying to get a good picture of what's going," he said. "We think it's necessary with the economy as it is and the economic hit that school districts are taking."

Enoch pointed to projections from Chartwells indicating that if the increase is approved, they could bring the program to "break-even" this year.

"I don't think our food service programs should be money makers," Enoch stated. "We like to see them at break even."

School board members were somewhat divided on the issue, with member Greg Marvel taking a firm stance against raising prices. "Although I understand the deficit situation our food services is in, I'm opposed to it because I felt the district made an error when they hired Chartwells," he said.

Marvel stated that he felt the fiscal projections made by Chartwells when they bid for the district's contract were off by as much as $500,000. Chartwells, he said, contracted to do the same job as Sodexho.

"We never had these kinds of deficits with Sodexho," he offered. "The bottom line is we were given a bill of goods as a board."

Board member Paul Gardner offered a counterpoint, saying that the reason Sodexho was replaced was that the district had received complaints about the quality and nutritional value of the food being served. "If Chartwells improved the taste and nutrition of the food and it cost more, I can work with that."

Board member Ken Mintz pointed out that the increase would leave the School District as one of the most expensive lunch programs in the area.

"I will reluctantly vote for the increase. I will wait and see if the parents walk away from the program," he said.

If the increase is approved, SRVUSD's lunch prices will be the fourth highest in the area, behind Moraga, Palo Alto and Orinda.

Board member Rachel Hurd offered a different perspective on the expectations placed on the lunch programs and what it can do. "School lunch is one of those things where you're never going to make everyone happy," she stated. Complaints range from the poor nutritional value to students only being allowed one piece of pizza.

Marvel argued that given the state of the economy, raising prices is unfair to district parents. "This is the worst time to ask parents to shell out more money," he maintained.

Before a vote could be taken, the discussion shifted to holding off on a decision in order to give Assistant Superintendent of Finance Gary Black time to examine the numbers and determine if the increase is in fact what is needed to avoid a deficit.

School Board President Bill Clarkson asked if there was any reason to hold off on a decision.

Black said the word they've had from Chartwells is that waiting and changing the price structure once the school year has started could result in a falloff of sales.

Clarkson was unconvinced. "It's their recommendation, but we take the hit if they're wrong," he said.

After further discussion, the board voted to table the issue until it could get a more thorough examination of the numbers. It is expected to come up for discussion and a possible vote at the Aug. 18 meeting.

Superintendent Enoch said there are certainly questions and concerns around the food service program and there are things that need to be addressed if the district is to continue doing business with Chartwells.

"It's our expectation that either we turn this around this year or we rethink our food service," he stated.

Enoch gave a thumbnail sketch of the laundry list of concerns the district has with its provider. These included management issues, equipment issues, organizational issues and service issues.


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Posted by Rick
a resident of Danville
on Aug 4, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Our kids need good nutrition more than even a good education. It is fundamentally what controls most of our physical, mental, and emotional capabilities. If chartwells costs more simply because they provide a better product, well then it is well worth it

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Posted by Andrew Gardner
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Aug 4, 2009 at 10:10 pm

As a teacher at San Ramon Valley High School, I would like to share with you my experience within the newly constructed Commons on any given day during the school year.

Upon entering our Commons you are greeted by a sweet lady who is serving up pizza by the slice on a sheet of wax paper and styrofoam plate both of which serve no purpose but for the hand off. These products contribute to a disgusting trash issue in which I have been working to minimize during my four years at SRVHS.

Turn to the left and you get the full lunch bar options for students. Get in the lines to the left for your hamburgers and french fries and another brand of pizza. Down the middle you enter the Mexican lines in which you can receive an assortment of bean and cheese burritos and tacos as well as a nice paper box full of nachos and cheese. And to your right, you may find a healthier side of lunch with hot pastrami sandwiches from Quizno's which can be combined with a bag of chips, milk, and a piece of fruit.

Two issues to consider:

1. According to most nutritional references and my own intuition, these meals would not fall under any category of "Healthy Choice" lunches. So if you are basing your decisions to hike up lunch prices because you need "to provide better and more nutritious meals to district students" then I strongly urge you to reconsider your choice of food vendors.

2. As I am sure there is some legal code for handling and distributing food, the current system produces an incredible and excessive amount of trash. During my 4 years, we have conducted trash and recycling audits and implemented several initiatives to clean up our campus. By reducing the amount of paper and wax products associated with food distribution at the schools OR choosing a vendor that specializes in No or Limited Waste Food Services, we could well be on our way to a much cleaner campus for our school community.

I realize it is hard for Board members to see the day-to-day on each campus but I assure you, there is plenty of waste, both material and fiscal, associated with the food services in the district. As we tighten our budget belts, think about the reality of the nutritional choices before hiking up lunch prices for students, think about the custodial costs to clean up all the trash on a daily basis, and think about the daily hauling and landfill costs this current system is costing the district.

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Posted by ken
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2009 at 7:38 am

Of course their are "legal" (and more importantly SAFE handling) issues for distributing food. It may be perfectly normal for your kids to just pick up a slice of pizza w/o protective gloves and/or wax paper(napkin) when eating at home, but trash even an excessive amount, is a small price to pay for the health and welfare of our children.

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Danville
on Aug 5, 2009 at 10:26 am

There should be no candy, chips, cookies, soda or any junk food at school. Pizza is even debatable. Kids need to be compelled to eat things with a significant amount of vegetables and/or fruit. To compel them one must deprive them of unhealthier options. After all, we have them stuck at school as a captive audience for eight hours. Only highly nutritious foods should be available during this time.

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Posted by Danville Mom
a resident of Danville
on Aug 5, 2009 at 3:27 pm

$4 for lunch...that is cheap. Lunch at DLS is $5.75 for an entree.

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Posted by Crazy
a resident of Danville
on Aug 5, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Parents in this school district can spend thousands of dollars buying their kids useless junk but they don't want to spend $20/week to feed them?

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Posted by Tim
a resident of Danville
on Aug 8, 2009 at 7:24 am

Can someone please explain why the shortfall of more than $200,000 in the lunch program was just doscovered? If this school district was a real business this expense would have been monitored every month and corrective action implemented when the loss was just $10,000. Instead, the taxpayers get to bail out the school district for their lax monitoring. Lunch programs should be a break even expense at every school site. This should be one of the many performance indicators place on the school sites administrators.

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Posted by San Ramon business owner
a resident of San Ramon
on Aug 11, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Note to all, you can't force kids to eat food they don't want to eat and you can put healthy food out but if they don't eat it is it still considered healthy? Based on these comments above what kinds of foods are they (Chartwells) serving that is so much more healthy? Sounds to me they are using the word "healthier foods" just to make it sound better but in reality I heard it's much worse than before from my neighbors that have kids attending schools within the district. It's too bad that a mistake was made and no one is willing to move past it to correct the root of the problem. I also heard that the foodservice lost $600,000 not $300,000 from within the district so what was the true cost from this year really and why do we (taxpayers) have to pay for a company that should have managed it properly? If anyone has that answer I would love to hear!

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Posted by Rick
a resident of Danville
on Aug 11, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Mr. Business Owner, I don't know what kind of a pathetic parent you must be, but you ABOSLUTELY can force kids to eat healthy. Kids are genetically geared to be led, to be guided. I'm so sick of this flaccid, limpwristed approach towards children, as if they were the adults. Oh well, the kid wants to smoke. I guess we have to let him. The kid wants to eat a cookie. What can we do? Friggin pathetic. A child's nutrition is of the utmost importance. That being said, if Chartwells is not providing said nutrition, then haul their butts out and get someone in there to FEED OUR KIDS RIGHT!!! OUR BODIES AND MINDS ARE MADE OUT OF WHAT WE EAT!!! LAME NUTRITION EQUALS LAME PEOPLE!!!!

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Posted by maurice
a resident of Danville
on Aug 12, 2009 at 9:28 am

If you you dont like the food or the price. Get off your lazy backside and make your child lunch and stop whining...

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Posted by no name
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Aug 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm

San Ramon Valley High School has open campus for half of the students. They can just walk across the street or downtown and purchase the many items that by law the food service department is not allowed to serve.

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Posted by Omini
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Sep 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm

As a student at SRV, I find it just a tad odd that at the same time the lunch prices rose, the lunch room got these nice, fancy looking signs for the lines that we students spend all of 5 minutes in. I do realize that the price hike is district-wide, and not just because of the new signs. I am also aware that the money for those signs (and a new coat of paint of the inside of the cafeteria, featuring a "Wolves" logo above the door that all the students find corny) was probably allotted a year or two ago; same with the new (better looking) senior parking lot and expanded teacher parking that were built over the summer. But seriously, even if that money was allotted over a year ago, can't someone say "you know what? wee don't need a better looking parking lot for the seniors. Lets keep some teacher's jobs instead". oh well, whats done is done. I guess we'll just have to live with the extra parking for the teachers we won't have.

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