NEW PALESTINE — The Southern Hancock school district is now the first in the county to outsource its food service.
The school board unanimously agreed Monday night to a recommendation from Assistant Superintendent Bob Yoder to hire Aramark Food Service to take over the management, meal planning and food preparation for the district’s 3,000-plus students.
Some of the changes suggested in the Aramark proposal for the first year of a five-year contract include installing a made-to-order deli bar at New Palestine High School; implementing fruit and vegetable bars in all schools; enhancing breakfasts in all schools; and implementing new faculty and staff dining room menus.
“Our main goal is to provide the best food service that we can for our students,” Yoder said.
The five-year contract will be renewable after each year.
“That way, if it is not working, it can be terminated at that point,” Yoder said.
The move will not only allow all food service personnel to keep their jobs, but Aramark guaranteed all cafeteria workers will get a 2.5 percent pay increase at the start of the school year, Yoder said. The 30 or so workers will be hired by Aramark if they can pass background checks and drug screens.
The total cost of the arrangement is hard to pinpoint because Aramark will be paid according to the number of meals served, not a flat-fee contract. But Yoder says the district stands to save as much as $174,000 because of savings in labor costs and the purchase of food. The company’s purchasing power, Yoder, said, is immense.
“What they spend for food and labor, they’ll bill me and I’ll pay them back, but they have guaranteed a surplus at the end of the year, Yoder said.”
From ballparks to prisons, the company handles food services for a wide variety of entities. The company, based in Philadelphia, has 225,000 employees in 22 countries, according to the company’s website.
Yoder said Aramark has service plans for each of the district’s five buildings with age-segmented dining brands. He said officials will get to work on changes as soon as he chooses a coordinator from the company for the in-house food service director’s position.
For the next school year, new federal standards will bring significant changes to school meals, with cost, nutritional and menu planning implications for all schools participating in the USDA breakfast and lunch programs.
“The timing was right for us,” SH Superintendent Jim Halik said. “We had a good manager, but when she left, we didn’t have someone to step to the plate and now we’ve partnered with a firm that has lots of resources.”
District administrators recommended hiring Aramark over Chartwells Food Service after a committee consisting of food-service workers, administrators and parents visited six schools in two districts.
“After looking with a watchful eye and asking questions, I started to see how a food management company could indeed take us to that next level,” Sugar Creek Elementary food service manager Mary Bailey said.
While hiring a food management company is a new concept for the district and the community, Halik said Aramark has a proven track record with other school districts in the state. According to the company’s website, Aramark has arrangements with more than 500 school districts nationwide.
“We’re in the business of education, but they’re in the business to feed, and we should let those who are experts feed our children nutritious meals,” Halik said.
The food will not be shipped in pre-cooked he said, but will be prepared fresh daily by cafeteria staff.
“Not only will they be able to help us out in our kitchens, but they will be able to help us out in the community,” NPHS cafeteria manager Shelly Lehman said.
That includes starting a weekend back-pack service that will send food home to children in need and their families.
“They have lots of programs that just focus on wellness and nutrition where they can get into the classrooms,” Yoder said.
Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock districts all use food service directors and staffs who are school employees.