In the button-down, quasi-corporate world of DCPS senior management, differences of opinion are almost never aired publicly. The “almost” is expected to come up at today’s the D.C. Council oversight hearing, when Chancellor Kaya Henderson is likely to get questions about disagreements with food services director Jeff Mills.
According to food policy blogger Ed Bruske, Mills wants to drop
Chartwells, the major DCPS meal vendor, and bring food preparation in-house, where he believes it can be run more economically and healthfully. According to Bruske, Mills sent 1,500 pages of documents to the city council outlining how Chartwells has cost the city millions. But Henderson withdrew Mills’ proposal, which came in the form of a PowerPoint presentation telling Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) in a letter that “the views in the PowerPoint do not reflect the direction that DCPS food services is moving in.”
Henderson is not pleased with Chartwells, but according to Bruske she has refused to consider Mills’ proposal. She is reluctant to bring food services in house because it is “not a core competence” of the school system, as she said in the letter to Cheh. DCPS ran an in-house food service operation until 2008—also at a loss—when then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee made the switch to outsourcing. Losses have reportedly continued under Chartwells.
Mills had won praise for forging improvements in school food, working with Cheh to implement provisions of the Healthy Schools Act she sponsored and led to passage. On Mills’ watch Chartwells has added healthier offerings to menus. He’s also brought in in two smaller operators, D.C. Central Kitchen and Revolution Foods, to serve some schools under a pilot program.
Bruske said that according to Mills’ staff, Chartwell’s average cost per meal is $4.21, compared to $3.06 for D.C. Central Kitchen and $2.87 for Revolution Foods. Officials said Chartwells runs up costs with numerous contract fees and by paying inflated prices for supplies and ingredients.