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Board rubber stamps increase for school lunches

Three proposals, a cost increase in school lunch, using a food service management company and changes to the food service plan at Cluster Springs Early Learning Center were discussed at the Halifax County School Board meeting Monday night, but the increase in cost was the only one approved.

School board members unanimously approved a 10-cent increase for school lunches for the next school year raising the current $2 price to $2.10. 

Food Services Coordinator Lori Hale brought the request saying “The superintendent memo states School Food Authorities that on average charge less than $2.65 for paid lunches in the 2013-14 school year are required to adjust our prices or provide non-federal funds to place within the school food service account.” 

After completing a Paid Lunch Equity Report, Hale said the Food Service Department is looking at $2.05 as the weighted average price requirement but requested $2.10. 

“We are requesting $2.10 because we are still far away from that $2.65. Any added increase will be very beneficial,” said Hale. 

ED-7 Trustee Roger Long asked Hale to clarify who required her to make the adjustments. 

Hale explained that she is required by the United States Department of Agriculture, who sponsors the free and reduced lunch program.  

In other business, when discussing the Request For Proposal for a Food Service Management Company, the school board’s policy on RFPs was brought into question. 

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon told board members only one company, Sodexo, submitted an RFP. The RFP was received Monday around 2 p.m. and copies were not distributed to board members prior to the meeting.  

Board members told Herndon they needed time to review the RFP before making a decision, and the superintendent said she would invite a representative from Sodexo to the next meeting. 

As Chairman Kim Farson asked for a motion, ED8-Walter Potts asked, “what is our policy on RFPS? How many RFPs does this board have to have in order to make a decision on that?”  

 “Even if it is or isn’t in the policy, I have a problem with giving this RFP to only one bidder. That sounds somewhat abstract. The whole purpose is to have competition,” said Potts.  

Herndon pointed out that there are only two other options, Armark and Cartwheel, in the region and Cartwheel submitted a letter stating they were not going to participate. 

“We did everything we were supposed to do as far as the RFP, and we only had one out of the three submit,” said Herndon. 

Potts said he was “getting everything but the answer (he) was looking for” and continued to ask, “what is this board’s policy on obtaining RFPs.”

“How many do we have to get on a specific bid, and I’m getting everything but that. If our policy says one thing we need to go by the policy or come up and change it,” Potts added. 

ED-4 Trustee Cheryl Terry said, “If you look at that policy and there is no minimum then we are okay. If you look at the policy and it says we must have two, then we simply have to put the bid back out there with another due date, if we do not get another one we have to make that exception to our policy.”  

Potts responded saying, “Still I have a problem with giving a bid to one bidder.” 

“Whole purpose of having RFPs is getting competitive bids,” Potts reiterated.  

Chairman Kim Farson requested that central office find an answer in the policy and let the board members know if they can move forward. 

The board then approved a motion brought by ED-5 Trustee Roger Long to find out what the policy states and revisit the topic at the next meeting. 

The food service coordinator also requested that the board consider the option of satellite meals to Cluster Springs Early Learning Center from Cluster Springs Elementary School because CSELC has consistently lost money during the current school year. 

“The participation level is not high enough to maintain the current staff and operations going into 2014-15 school year,” said Hale, adding, “Data shows an average of 50 students participating in the National School Lunch Program at that location.” 

ED-7 Dick Stoneman asked the food services coordinator how much money would be saved by carrying the meals to the school.

Hale said there would be an estimated labor cost savings of $3,500 per month because current Cluster Springs Early Learning Center food service employees would be transferred to Cluster Springs Elementary School where vacancies are available. 

She further explained saying, “The idea is to have someone at Cluster Springs Elementary School in charge of taking care of Cluster Springs Early Learning Center. A food service employee would travel with those meals.” 

This employee would be serving “one thirty minute lunch period.” 

The food service coordinator suggested the board allow her to try it for four to six weeks then evaluate it to see if its working. 

Stoneman said he was reluctant to make a decision on any school until the board members make a decision on the food service management company. 

Hale told the board members she needed a decision prior to July 1 because that’s when contracts are sent out to employees. 

The food service management company and the food service plan for Cluster Springs Early Learning Center will be put on the agenda for a special meeting June 2 at 6 p.m. in the School Board Office Conference Room, with an executive session held first for student discipline.