Nashville School District considers outsourcing cafeterias

By John R. Schirmer
Leader staff
The Nashville School District is considering outsourcing the cafeterias on its campuses. At the Feb. 15 school board meeting, junior high Principal Deb Tackett and elementary Assistant Principal Rick Rebsamen made a presentation on the outsourcing concept and told about how the program has been implemented in other districts.
An outside company is hired to prepare and serve meals to students and staff. Current food services workers may be hired, and they work for the company, not the district, Tackett said.
The Bentonville district erased about $900,000 of a food services program deficit the first year that the cafeteria was outsourced, Tackett and Rebsamen said. At Hot Springs Lakeside, a deficit of about $80,000 was cut in half the first year, and food services have shown a profit for two years. That money goes back into the cafeteria, Lakeside officials said.
To begin outsourcing, food services companies submit bids. The company which is selected hires and trains employees and provides insurance and a retirement plan. The larger company has more buying power than an individual district. “This lowers the cost. There are a lot of rebates. We can continue to use USDA commodities. Outsourcing offers more options and larger portions,” Rebsamen said.
Cafeterias often change their layout from one or two serving lines to food bars with different menu items. “We saw fresh mango, pineapple and other fruits and vegetables. Kids learn to eat healthy and have better choices,” Tackett said.
The company offers online tracking for parents, who may see what students owe and what they eat. Other services include catering school events.
The cost per meal is the same as it was when the district operated the cafeterias at Lakeside and Bentonville.
Schools often conduct surveys of what students want in their cafeteria and the size of the portions.
High school Principal Tate Gordon said Nashville visitors saw a number of teachers eating in the Lakeside cafeteria. “Their superintendent eats there every day,” he said.
Not many teachers eat in the Nashville cafeterias, principals told the board.
Companies which manage school food service programs “operate under state and federal regulations. They have more variety,” Superintendent Doug Graham said.
Switching to a management company is a lengthy process, Graham said. “It takes a year go get ready. If we do it here, it won’t happen until 2015-16. We will have a lot more discussion. We invite the board to look at it themselves.”
Nashville food services staff members were invited to discuss the matter at the March board meeting.
In other business last week, the Nashville district declined to participate in a career coach program through CCCUA. A grant would pay about half of the position’s $50,000 salary the first year, with the district being responsible for the remainder.
Graham recommended that Nashville not participate at this time. “I don’t question there’s some benefit to the program. I have a folder on my desk of things I want to do but don’t have money for all of them. I think it’s a real good program, but I’m not ready to bite off and do it today.”
Career coaches work with junior and senior high students on career choices, college planning and other areas handled by counselors in many districts. Dr. Maria Parker from CCCUA said career coaches are helpful because counselors often spend time with state testing.
The board voted to re-employ Assistant Superintendent Joe Kell, Athletic Director and Director of Facilities and Transportation James “Bunch” Nichols and building principals Tate Gordon, Deb Tackett, Latito Williams and Shirley Wright.
Certified and non-certified staff will be employed in March.
Resignations were accepted from elementary teachers Marcia Aylett and Becky Reeder and high school Spanish teacher Kenisha Davis, elementary school custodian David Cheatham, and food services staff members Betty Parker, Martha Gautney and Joy Barr. Terry Pratt was hired as bus driver, and Kimberly Dunham was hired as half-time ESL teacher at elementary.
The district is interviewing for the vacant teaching positions and the information technology position, Graham said.
The next board meeting will be held Tuesday, March 25.

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