The D.C. Council has begrudgingly approved a food service contractor to provide meals for more than 100 of the city’s public schools.
Beginning in August, SodexoMagic is slated to be D.C. Public Schools’ largest food provider.
If the council had not voted in favor of the one-year, $35 million contract Tuesday, the city would have needed to find a new vendor on an emergency basis to have a meal provider in place for the start of the school year. Some of the city’s schools open as early as Aug. 8. Three council members voted against the contract.
“The uncertainty of not having a food contract service vendor worries me more,” council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) said as he urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the contract while conceding that the new arrangement has flaws at its start.
In 2010, Sodexo — which made a deal with Magic Food Provisions to form SodexoMagic — settled a $20 million case in New York after it allegedly overcharged more than 20 of the state’s school districts for food service.
D.C. has been looking to replace Chartwells as the school system’s largest food provider. Chartwells, which provided food services for D.C. Public Schools since 2008, settled a whistleblower lawsuit with the city for $19 million in 2015. A complaint from the Office of the Attorney General claimed that Chartwells “knowingly submitted” false invoices that the school system paid.
“I am afraid that we have a partner that is no different nor better than Chartwells,” council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said Tuesday. “This contract simply replaces one big flawed contractor for another big flawed contractor.”
Chartwells told the D.C. Council last summer that it wanted to withdraw from the contract this fall, leaving the city to scramble for a new vendor. D.C. Public Schools put out a request for companies to apply in December, and the school system announced in May that it had selected SodexoMagic with Revolution Foods as a subcontractor, pending approval from the D.C. Council and other city officials.
The selection of a food vendor is a critical decision for the District, where a majority of the city’s public school students are poor and many rely on the school nutrition program as a primary source for meals.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said that he wants to see more in-school food preparation. He said the city has been working under tough time constraints and that there are few businesses that can provide the necessary food operations on such a large scale — and in such order.
“There aren’t any other options,” he said.
The D.C. Council also unanimously approved D.C. Central Kitchen to provide meals for a dozen schools in Ward 7.