D.C. Council member David Grosso kicked off the new school year with a tour of cafeteria food.
Over the past week, the chairman of the education committee visited six schools and sampled fare from all three vendors that serve D.C. Public Schools. He found long lines at Wilson High School, airplane packaging at Malcom X Elementary School, and requests everywhere for chocolate milk.
His tour comes as the school system plans to launch a new request for proposals for vendors to serve meals in the district’s 111 schools, following two tumultuous multiyear contracts by Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality.
Food services for the school system are in turmoil. A brief recap: Chartwells, the largest food vendor for the District’s public school system, announced an agreement in June to pay $19 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that the company overcharged the city and mismanaged the school meals programs. Chartwells conceded no wrongdoing in the settlement, but the announcement brought new scrutiny to the program weeks before the $32 million annual food services contract was up for approval by the council.
Some council members wanted assurance that the school system would monitor Chartwells more closely during the coming year and move quickly to rebid the contract. In the process, Chartwells announced it would withdraw from the lucrative contract, leaving the status of food services for the current school year temporarily in question. The company agreed to stay on until a new vendor is secured.
The Education Committee has scheduled an oversight hearing for Public School Food and Nutrition Services on Sept. 30.
“I decided with all the craziness going on with school lunches that I would experience some for myself,” Grosso said. He visited Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Wilson High School, and Kramer Middle School, which are all served by Chartwells; Malcom X and Tyler elementary schools, which contract with Revolution Foods; and Walker Jones Education Campus, which has food provided by D.C. Central Kitchen.
He was accompanied by Robert Jaber, director of the Office of Food and Nutrition services. Grosso said he was glad they both got to hear the food feedback around lunch tables. Here’s some of what they heard and tasted, via Twitter.