June 16, 2014

Amara outlines reasons for privatizing school cafeterias

Here's a paper from Board of Education Chairman Larry Amara outlining the reasons why the Board of Education opted to outsource the school cafeterias:

Intro:  I want to take an opportunity to clarify information regarding cafeteria outsourcing.    
                 These are the facts.
  • Outsourcing was discussed as early as 2009 during contract negotiations with Local 2267.
  • Over the years we have tried to balance the cafeteria budget.
    • Since 2010-2011 we have reduced 12.4 staff through layoff and attrition to reduce the deficit.
    • We have raised lunch prices to a point where we are one of the highest in the State.
  • We continue to lose money with the cafeteria operation.
o   Year 2008-2009          ($207,183)
Year 2009-2010          ($92,121)
Year 2010-2011          ($140,487)
Year 2011-2012          ($100,000)
Year 2012-2013          ($327,000)
            5 year TOTAL              ($866,791)
            Estimated loss for 2013-2014 over 200K

  • In January 2013, we issued a Request for Proposals (RFP).
  • The purpose of the RFP was to determine if outsourcing would provide a cost effective alternative/cost savings and if so how much.
  • In February 2013, the Local 2267 union president was noticed of the Boards desire to commence contract negotiations and specifically notified that the Board was considering outsourcing the cafeteria services and was willing to negotiate over the issue.
  • In the months that followed, two additional letters from the Board were sent requesting to begin negotiations and discuss outsourcing.  Local 2267 was not willing to begin negotiations until May.
  • The Board shared its goals for negotiations with Local 2267, specific to cafeteria services – cost neutral and not balancing the cafeteria loss every year on the shoulders of the entire union membership.
  • During the time it took to get Local 2267 to the table, the Board interviewed 5 vendors and on April 18, 2013 the Board authorized the Superintendent to negotiate and execute a tentative contract with Whitsons subject to State review and approval.
  • The purpose of negotiating a tentative contract with Whitsons was to have a clear understanding of everything involved along with potential savings.  This was necessary information for both parties during negotiations.
  • The Whitson proposal would eliminate the six-figure cafeteria deficit.  Whitsons guarantees the Bristol Schools, in year one, $224,500 to cover the school system’s related cost associated with the cafeteria program.  Whitsons makes this guarantee by putting its’ management and administrative fee at risk.
  • Whitsons will also invest $220,000 in infrastructure improvements to the school cafeterias.
  • During negotiations it was agreed to address the issue of outsourcing outside of the full contract.  The union requested we deal with the cafeteria workers first.
  • We tried to negotiate with Local 2267 over this issue and when both sides could not agree we jointly asked for binding interest arbitration and required by law.
  • The parties also agreed to engage in mediation while interest arbitration was pending.
  • Sometime later, Local 2267 changed its mind and asked the court to block arbitration.  The judge responded to their arguments and rejected all their claims, including the claim that the ground rules required every member of the negotiating team to vote in favor of any agreement reached.
  • During the three day arbitration hearing, both sides had ample time to submit evidence, call witnesses under oath, and argue their case.
  • The arbitration panel ruled that outsourcing was justified by our financial situation, and was in the best interest of the public.
  • The Board’s Last Best Offer in arbitration included:
o   Allowing the Board of Education to outsource when it deems it to be in the best interest of Bristol Schools.
o   Severance payment of $1000 to each affected bargaining unit employee who is offered a reasonable, comparable position with the food service provider.
o   Severance payment of $3000 to each affected bargaining unit employee who is not offered such a position, provided he or she made a good faith effort to secure one.

  • During the course of the three day arbitration hearing the following facts were presented through an examination of the RFP, the tentative contract with Whitsons, sworn testimony and documentation.
  • In accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations and the Connecticut State Department of Education, Bristol Schools must:
o   Retain control of the quality and extent of its food service.
o   Retain control of all the prices to be charged for meals.  We determine the price of a student lunch.
o   Assure that all State and local regulations are being met.
o   Establish and maintain an advisory board composed of parents, teachers, and students to assist in menu planning.
o   Retain control and overall financial responsibility for the operation.
o   Retain unlimited access to all areas used by the vendor for the purpose of inspection and audits.
o   Insure that all USDA donated foods, rebates, refunds, trade allowances and discounts accrue only to the benefit of the District.
o   Retain signature authority to approve reimbursement claims monthly.
  • The contract with Whitsons is for one year and subject to four additional one-year renewals upon consent of both parties.
  • Whitsons has testified that it is to their advantage and will make every effort to hire all current employees.
  • During the summer transition, employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits.  The  benefit ranges from $1000 to $2400 with the average benefit being  $1500 for the summer months.
  • Whitsons has testified that it fully expects and is willing to work with AFSCME or any other union the workforce chooses as their representative.
  • Whitsons is charged with following BOE policy.  It is not the policy of the BOE to have a youngster go unfed.
  • Whitsons has testified that their goal and average use of local vendors is 52%.  We currently are at 25%.
  • The contract calls for Whitsons to amortize their $220,000 equipment investment over five years.  If the BOE were to change vendors during this time the successor company would be required to pay the unamortized portion of the investment.  There would be no cost to the BOE.
  • Whitsons administrative/management fee is paid through the cost of meals.  There is no cost to the BOE.
  • If the BOE were to change vendors, all employees then working for Whitsons could be rehired by the new vendor with the exception of management/professional employees such as Vice President, District Manager, Food Service Director, Supervisor, Chief, Nutritionist or Dietician.
  • All breads must be delivered fresh daily.
  • Whitsons will offer a hot breakfast program in our schools.  A program we were never able to provide our children due to labor costs.
  • Whitsons has the capacity to offer a dinner service.  Something we would like to consider with our higher poverty schools.
  • With economies of scale Whitsons provides:
o   A purchasing team able to secure quality at the most competitive price.
o   A team of full time dieticians.
o   A full time food service manager and full time chef.
o   An expansive A La Carte menu.
o   A full time marketing team to promote student participation with programs and presentations.
o   A variety of selections and menu promotions. 

  • Whitsons personnel policies:
o   Promote from within.
o   Offer staff incentive programs.
o   Provide financial support for staff with emergency needs or education cost.
o   Offer career development.
  • Whitsons provides $1500 yearly for student scholarships
  • Whitsons provides a custom designed webpage for the District featuring menus, nutrition and allergen information, access to free and reduced lunch applications and online pay options.

  • Just to be clear, Whitsons is willing to offer jobs to our cafeteria workers, and is willing to
  • recognize and bargain with the union as they have done successfully in other communities. 
  • Local 2267 has commenced three separate legal proceedings in its effort to block outsourcing.  To date, none of them has been successful.  We believe none of them has any merit, and we cannot wait indefinitely for their outcome.

  • Therefore we intend to focus on the business we know best, namely education, and let the contractor focus on the business they know best, food service.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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