Trustees want closer look at school meals contract

2010-04-12T21:59:00Z Trustees want closer look at school meals contractROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
April 12, 2010 9:59 pm  • 

Billings School District 2’s budgeting committee decided it wants to take a good, long look at the district’s contract with Sodexo Food Services, the company that provides meals to its schools.

SD2’s contract with Sodexo comes up every five years, with the latest contract expiring this summer. Before the district enters into a new one, committee members want to make sure SD2 is getting the most for its money.

“I have some concerns about the quality of their product,” said Joel Guthals, chairman of the budgeting committee and a trustee on the school board.

Sodexo is the only food service provider that put in a bid for the district’s contract, said Thomas Harper, director of finances for the district. The offer is the same it was five years ago — about $5 million a year — keeping meal prices for district schools the same, he said.

Given the size of the contract and the fact that Sodexo is the only player, Guthals said it would “be a disservice” to the district to at least not examine the product the schools are getting from Sodexo and discuss ways to improve it should there be a need.

Peter Gesuale, a committee member and fellow board trustee, agreed.

“We can make demands on them,” he said. “We should have the discussion.”

The committee, which is comprised of community members, board trustees and district officials, also discussed the budget deficit facing the high school district for the coming school year.

The deficit is projected at $183,000, and district staff hopes to reduce it to $50,000. The district would do it by moving over money from its American Indian education fund and surplus money from its retirement account, along with other leftovers.

The district would take $50,000 from the American Indian education fund that had been held in reserve to build an education center dedicated to aiding American Indians. Instead, that money will now be applied to programs serving at-risk teenagers, some of whom are American Indian.

Harper said he and Superintendent Jack Copps thought they could find $83,000 in money that had been budgeted for retirement and other services but then not needed.

The district had fewer retirements this year than it had initially budgeted for. As a result there is some additional money that can be applied to other areas of the budget.

Harper’s and Copps’ hope is that it will be enough to reduce the high school deficit by $83,000, leaving only $50,000 in cuts that the district would then have to make.

The board will vote on the committee’s recommendations when it meets Monday.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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