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Posted at 05:59 PM ET, 01/23/2012

Cheh: DCPS food service cash crunch is result of error, not rising costs

DCPS says it needs $10.7 million to cover increased food service costs that are busting its budget. But the D.C. Council member who shepherded legislation to improve the quality of school meals said Monday that the school system’s explanation “is not a proper portrayal” of the facts.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the real problem is that DCPS and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) inexplicably budgeted just $1.4 million in local funds for the current fiscal year, a reduction of 91 percent over the 15.2 million it spent in FY 2011.

“I don’t know how the CFO could have certified that,” Cheh said. “It’s a glaring hole.”

Neither DCPS nor OCFO had responded to requests for comment by early Monday evening.

Cheh said she plans to pursue the issue Tuesday, when the council takes up Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposal to use $21.4 million of the newly projected fiscal 2011 District surplus to cover DCPS cost overruns in the current fiscal year.

Cheh, sponsor of the Healthy Schools Act, said the assertion by Gray and DCPS that food costs have risen doesn’t square with the facts. At a panel discussion a few months ago, Cheh heard DCPS food services director Jeff Mills say that DCPS had served 2 million additional meals to low-income students while reducing costs by $1 million. Costs were also down because of the decision to contract with D.C. Central Kitchen and Revolution Foods for service at 14 schools. Their meals are much cheaper than Chartwells, the school system’s main vendor.

Mills did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

DCPS is also asking for extra funds to cover the cost of non-instructional staff being carried on the central office budget, but Cheh said the food service situation gives her pause.

“If that’s the explanation on that spending pressure, it really drains my confidence that the explanation on the other measures should be counted on,” Cheh said. “I suddenly have my doubts about these explanations.”

By  |  05:59 PM ET, 01/23/2012

 
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