|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - May 2010
Copyright 2010 - Polk County Publishing Company
LISD awards food contract to Southwest
Polk County Enterprise
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — Trustees for Livingston Independent School District chose Southwest Foodservice Excellence LLC as the district’s food service provider Monday over two other bidders or remaining a self-provider. Southwest was one of three companies who made 45-minute presentations to district officials last Thursday in addition to a presentation by current LISD food service department staff. All three have met requirements by the Texas Department of Agriculture to even compete for the contract. Board members commented during and after Monday’s meeting that the decision came down to a few fairly minor differences among presenters. Southwest guaranteed the largest revenue surplus back to the district, reversing a recent trend of departmental deficits. Southwest guaranteed $180,000 in revenue back to the district in the first year of the contract. If actual revenues exceed that figure, the district will keep the money. If they fall short, Southwest will refund its $4,500 per month management fee to make up the shortfall. The other two companies, Aramark and Chartwells, promised surpluses of $287,528 and $165,000 respectively. Both of those companies would have purchased food and equipment for the district while those purchases will continue to be made by the district through co-ops under the Southwest contract. A motion by Henry Ager to accept Southwest’s proposal passed with a 4-2 vote with Brian Bounds abstaining. Bounds was unable to attend last week’s session due to the death of a childhood friend. The two “no” votes were by Frank Henderson and Ben Ogletree III. Ogletree said his vote was not a negative toward Southwest, but an indication of how close all three proposals were. “We all got to vote our opinion and I expressed mine, but I fully support Southwest and I’m confident they’ll do a great job,” Ogletree said. Several officials cited four areas of concern in choosing a provider: • Current employees would retain their jobs. All current food service workers will have the option of remaining LISD employees or going to work directly for Southwest. Luis Benavides, co-founder of Southwest, said employees at some districts his company serves find they already qualify for retirement and can maximize take-home pay by retiring from the district and coming to work for Southwest. His staff will meet oneon- one with each employee to weigh the benefits of both options. Board president Bea Ellis questioned each potential provider about benefits and compensation to employees and said they did not want a pay discrepancy to develop between district workers and Southwest staff doing the same job. • Expanding number of food choices and presentation. Officials and each potential provider cited the importance of maximizing healthy choices such as fresh fruit and vegetables for students. Southwest will offer unlimited self-serve fresh fruit and vegetables to students at all grade levels. “You’d be surprised at how many kids will line up to get celery sticks,” said Jeff Ackerman, Southwest’s food service director for Center I.S.D. • Capturing potential revenue. As the financial outlook for public schools continues to deteriorate, officials have repeatedly stated over the last several months that an important financial goal for the 2010-2011 school year was to turn food service into a revenue-producing department, instead of requiring a cash infusion from the general fund. Research by district staff showed many students who qualify for free lunch were not eating and others who meet the criteria for the federal and state funded program were not signing up. Southwest and the other potential providers all had methods to address that. “Children eat with their eyes,” Benevides said in last week’s meeting. He and Executive Vice President of Culinary Operations, Manuel Alvarado say presentation, aroma and texture of food is important to encourage students to eat healthy. • Continue to allow community groups to use taxpayer owned facilities. Southwest staff say they will continue to follow district policy on the use of facilities. Alvarado said his staff routinely provides facilities and food for community events. Those events range from allowing another caterer to use facilities to providing several chefs and other food service staff for a formal affair. Southwest coordinates spaghetti fund-raisers and provides meals during disaster situations, Benavides said.