Derelict Food Services In DC Schools Ignite Outrage, Questions Over Transparency

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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A fresh audit of the Washington, D.C. public school system reveals officials balked at making the necessary changes to fix its food services after being exposed for price gauging, rotten food and fraud.

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) food services is still mired in bureaucratic roadblocks after a multimillion dollar lawsuit exposed the issues. The derelict condition of the facilities also continues to be neglected. Undersized cafeterias and broken equipment are just some of the problems continuing to plague the DCPS, which is currently actively seeking a new food services contract for the 2016-2017 calendar year, reports Washington City Paper.

The D.C. Council pressured the DCPS to make the contract change, and to research the viability of in-house food preparation, which public schools do efficiently and profitably nationwide. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, however, continues to refuse even considering the idea of in-house preparation, despite Council and community support. 80 percent of public schools nationwide use in-house preparation for their cafeteria meals with great success, according to Washington City Paper.

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson made the initial finding that exposed the conditions and says more information will be released in the coming weeks. Currently, Chartwells holds the contract for food services in the District. It was sued for $19.4 million in a lawsuit over fraud, promoting the initial audit requested by Council member Mary Cheh, reports The Washington Post.

“We witnessed inefficiencies and waste including equipment that we were told had been broken for a year or longer,” Patterson said in the audit. “This raises several important risks for your agency, including inefficient spending on food services, failure to anticipate maintenance and scheduled purchasing needs, and possible duplication of resources.”

Parents and Council members are concerned the closed door process of choosing a new provider is not being made with the best interests of the DCPS in mind. Sodexo Inc., another national supplier with a similar history of lawsuits, is expected to win the contract bid, which could be announced as early as April.

“If DCPS trades Chartwells for Sodexo, people will be rightfully outraged,” a source on the Council told Washington City Paper. “They will have to own that.”

While the DCPS is surveying communities to hear input, contract bids are not disclosed to the public, while the deciding panel, which is promised to be “diverse,” is anonymous. Rob Jaber, director of food and nutrition for DCPS, is heavily involved in the process with Council member David Grosso and is a former Chartwells employee. Council sources say officials leading the contract bid are disingenuous and do not have the best interests of the DCPS food service program at heart, reports Washington City Paper.

“Sometimes you have to accept their word,” Cheh told Washington City Paper. “Until I see evidence to the contrary, I’m not going to make any accusations.”

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