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Halifax County School Board okays food service contract / June 05, 2014
Monday’s vote by the Halifax County School Board to turn over school cafeteria operations to the private sector will mean greater variety and healthier food for county students, school officials said this week in hailing the change.

Trustees voted unanimously to approve a one-year contract with Sodexo, one of three food service management companies that operate in Virginia.

“This is a new, positive move that we feel will benefit our school children and their parents,” said ED#5 trustee Roger Long, summing up the sentiments of other board members.

At the same time, trustees stressed that all cafeteria workers would remain employees of the Halifax County school system.

The vote to hire the food services management company came after the matter was brought to the board at its May meeting and after requested bids had been opened. Sodexo was the lone company to submit a bid, and trustees said at the time they wanted more time to comb through the 100-plus pages of the submitted bid proposal. Board members said they wanted to be assured that the services offered by Sodexo would meet the needs of county students.

In introducing Sodexo’s representative, Dr. Jim Sullivan, at Monday’s meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Merle Herndon pointed to the 2013 school efficiency study last year, which included a survey that had the quality of school meals as its leading complaint.

According to Sullivan, age-appropriate meals will be served to elementary, middle and high school students with Sodexo in charge. Elementary students will have a choice of three meals, while middle schoolers will be able to chose between five to seven meals, and high school students will have eight choices of meals. All will include healthy, nutritional foods that promote student achievement, with fresh ingredients served at appropriate temperatures.

Although cafeteria workers will be employed by the school system, Sodexo will provide year-round training in customer service, technical skills and life skills. Sodexo will also provide uniforms for the employees.

As part of its bid proposal, Sodexo guarantees the school system a surplus of at least $10,140 in meal operations — compared to the school’s 2013 year-end deficit of $17,855. This is possible, Sullivan said, with expanded food choices, improved financial controls and greater purchasing power.

For the $2.10 cost of lunch in the upcoming year, students will receive up to five items including a meat, grain bread, vegetable, fruit and milk. Additional items may be purchased a la carte if students wish, he said.

Some 35 cafeteria employees were present for the Monday meeting of the School Board. Several posed questions following Sullivan’s presentation, mostly to seek reassurances that their jobs would not be in jeopardy if the outside management contract was approved.

Sullivan assured the employees, as well as school trustees, that his company works in partnership with local divisions, involving the staff in menu planning and working arrangements.

He noted that Sodexo has run Halifax Regional Hospital’s cafeteria for the past ten years, and the company also handles food service for Danville and Martinsville hospitals and Liberty University.

Recently Herndon and two school trustees, Phyllis Smith of ED#1 and Karen Hopkins of ED#2, traveled to Asheboro, N.C. to visit schools that Sodexo has served for the past 20 years.

All three offered glowing reports of what they saw at the elementary, middle and high school cafeterias, observing that students seemed to be enjoying the meals provided by Sodexo.

After approving the Sodexo contract, trustees refrained from addressing an earlier proposed meal plan — which would involve preparing lunches for students at the Cluster Springs Early Learning Center at Cluster Springs Elementary and transporting them to the Center. Trustees agreed that Food Service Coordinator Lori Hale should work with Sullivan to have Sodexo prepare the meals off site and delivered to the Center.

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