A day after D.C. Public Schools’ embattled food vendor notified city officials that it wants to withdraw from its contract, attorneys for D.C. schools told Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality that it must continue serving D.C. students in the coming year.
“As you know, DCPS has a unilateral option to renew the contract for 2015-2016,” said a letter sent Wednesday and signed by D. Scott Barash, the school system’s general counsel.
The letter cited contract language that permits the school system to extend the contract for four one-year periods, so long as it gives the vendor enough notice and the vendor accepts the offer — conditions that Barash said were met.
With the D.C. Council’s approval of the contract, which became official Tuesday, the school system intends to carry out the terms of the contract, the letter said.
“At this time we expect Chartwells to continue to perform under the terms of our contract and look forward to Chartwells continuing to serve the students of the District of Columbia,” it said.
On Tuesday Chartwells School Dining Services notified the D.C. Council and Chancellor Kaya Henderson that the company wants to withdraw from its contract as soon as the fall, but she said the company would stay on for as long as it takes to find another vendor.
Late Wednesday, Rhonna Cass, the company’s president, issued a statement: “We have consistently stated that we are committed to the students of DCPS and if DCPS wants us to continue to operate and we can do so in a positive environment, then of course we will continue to operate. However, having gone on record that they will look for a new provider for the 2016-17 school year, we think it would be in everyone’s best interest for DCPS to go ahead and start the process early. That said, we have communicated that we will operate until DCPS is ready to transition, and we will honor that commitment.”
The company’s move shocked city officials and had many scrambling to figure out how they could secure food service for tens of thousands of students on short notice.
Chartwells’s announcement followed weeks of public scrutiny after a large whistleblower settlement was announced last month.
Chartwells agreed to pay $19 million to settle allegations of financial mismanagement and overcharging. It did not admit wrongdoing in the case.
Since then, the city’s inspector general launched an investigation, and some council members delayed approval of the coming year’s contract and negotiated with Henderson to begin looking for another food vendor in time for the 2016-2017 school year.