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School districts parting ways

May 30, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — The elementary school district here will be parting ways with the high school district in regard to food service at the start of the 2002-2003 academic year.

By a unanimous vote the Brawley Elementary School District board voted to contract food services with an Illinois-based company, Preferred Meal Systems Inc., which has a regional office in Irvine.

The vote means for the first time in decades the elementary district will not receive food services from the Brawley Union High School District.


The change will not affect the price of student lunches. Students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches will continue to receive that service. All other students will continue to pay $1.25 for their lunches.

Elementary district Superintendent Howard Sullivan said the district spent three months reviewing the company before making the decision.

He said the review included traveling to Huntington Beach, where a district comparable in size to the Brawley elementary district receives services from Preferred Meal Systems.

As for the reason for the split, Sullivan said the contract with BUHS was becoming too expensive, with the elementary district projecting a $50,000 loss in its cafeteria services fund for the next year.

"When an operation is causing you to lose $50,000, you have to look at making a change," Sullivan said this morning.

Under the deal with Preferred Meal Systems, Sullivan said the district is projecting a savings of $90,000 annually, which he said means the district would have $40,000 in profit as opposed to the $50,000 loss if the district continued its contract with BUHS.

The elementary district board approved a one-year contract with the company as a trial period. Sullivan said there will be some startup costs in that first year totaling up to $15,000, but he said those are one-time costs.

He said if the first year brings about savings, the board will consider renewing the contract. If the deal does not prove successful, the district will consider going back to the high school to negotiate a new contract.

Sullivan said while he is confident there will be a savings, "like anything you don't know until you are into it."

He pointed out that the contract with Preferred Meal Systems does not include the company providing milk, a service the high school did provide. He said it will not be difficult or costly for the elementary district to contract milk services.

The savings to the district, Sullivan said, will come from reductions in food and labor costs since the Preferred Meal System program will be less labor-intensive.

When asked if that means some elementary district employees will lose their jobs, Sullivan said he does not anticipate that occurring. He said that is a matter he will have to begin to discuss with the employee union, adding his goal is to try to reach an agreement on the employment issue that will be "beneficial to everyone."

Sullivan did not speak in detail about the employment issue because he first must meet with the union.

Sullivan said he hopes the decision to part ways with the high school district on the food services contract does not strain relations between the districts.

He pointed out this is not the first time the districts have split from a contract. He said a number of years ago the high school district opted to contract with a private company for busing after receiving such services from the elementary district for decades.

The high school district now provides its own bus services.

Some high school district officials have voiced concern about the timing of the elementary district in contracting out food services.

The high school district is in building a new cafeteria as part of a Brawley Union High School expansion. The original plans for the cafeteria work took into consideration the high school had a contract with the elementary district.

High school district Trustee Tom DuBose said, "I think the timing is terrible."

He added for the high school district it will mean purchasing less equipment for the new cafeteria and the district will produce about one-third to one- fourth the meals.

DuBose added, "It will force us to send notices of potential layoffs. That's not what we want to do."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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