By Karen Billing
The Del Mar Union School District will wait on awarding a contract to a new hot lunch provider until May. Three viable bids remain in the process: Come on In! Café, Revolution Foods and Ki’s.
“I’ve run into a lot of difficulties in our process, not because we didn’t have great advice from our lunch committee, but as we started reviewing the bids, it was apparent that a lot of things had been left out of the request for proposal (RFP) that needed to be addressed,” said district superintendent Jim Peabody.
Peabody said a lot of the issues were based on the schools’ lack of infrastructure for hot lunch programs and the fact that two of the vendors propose serving food buffet style—the superintendent was not sure about the health permits required for that kind of service in schools.
Peabody recommended that staff works on the issues with the RFP with the vendors, the parent volunteer-composed lunch committee and a consultant hired by the district, Helen Kerrian, a retired food services manager and former president of the California Association of School Business Officials. He expects the board to award a bid at its May meeting.
When the first RFP went out, the district received 10 respondents. When the RFP was modified to include the amendments suggested by the lunch committee, the respondents went down to three. Amendments included items such as food being prepared fresh daily, no preservatives, hormone and nitrate-free meats and organic fruits.
Cathy Birks, assistant superintendent of business services, said the more restrictive and defined language in the addendum eliminated vendors that were able to bid on it.
Yana Mohanty, a representative from the parent committee, said that it may have been true for some applicants but not all as some were only casually interested or knew their bids would be too expensive for the district.
“Having three bidders in the RFP process is neither unexpected nor a cause for concern,” Mohanty said in a letter sent to the superintendent and board.
Board trustee Doug Rafner said he was concerned that the restrictive language spelled “doomsday” for an open bid process. He said that instead of “required” or “must contain,” they could modify the language to say foods should “try to include.”
“The bid process is to gather the most information and then look at who is offering what we want,” said Rafner. “We should allow the full gamut of bids to gather information that’s helpful for us to make an informed decision. Otherwise we’re turning our heads to the whole process and only looking at those that offer, say, whole wheat pasta.”
Trustee Doug Perkins disagreed that the language was limiting and that the process was exclusionary, citing First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids.
“In my view it’s getting us ahead of the game,” Perkins said. “It’s getting our programs up to where the nation’s heading.”