By Karen Billing
The Del Mar Union School District will hold a re-bid for a hot lunch program provider, after too many issues were found with their last request for proposals (RFP). The board decided at a special meeting held on May 12 to proceed with a quick eight-week schedule to go out for bid and select the best vendor, possibly at a special meeting in June.
The board found that the last RFP was too exclusive in its requirements as only three vendors submitted packages, including Come on In! Café, Revolution Foods and Ki’s. There were also too many outstanding issues not addressed in the recent RFP, a total of 16 issues left out that needed to be to addressed to meet National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and health code compliances.
“The prudent option is to re-open the bid process,” said board trustee Doug Rafner. “It’s my opinion that the bid process be a little bit over-inclusive…we’ll make a determination based on what is best for the district and our students.”
Trustee Doug Perkins asked for some assurance that district staff could prepare an accurate RFP the second time around.
“Staff can put together an RFP that is clean and ready to go,” district Superintendent Jim Peabody said.
At last month’s board meeting, the board had proposed that the three remaining vendors work with their hired consultant Helen Kerrian, a retired food services manager and former president of the California Association of School Business Officials, and the parent-organized lunch committee to try to work out some of the issues with the RFP.
The three remaining vendors said they would be amenable to the changes. “These are easy,” said Janet Holcomb of Ki’s regarding the list of issues.
However, Peabody said the San Diego County Office of Education advised that if the contract looked too different from the RFP, the district could open themselves to liability—the vendors not chosen could contest.
The safest option was to just start fresh and rebid, he said.
“I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to go back and begin direct conversation with the remaining vendors,” said Perkins. “We’re making a decision fearful of something that might happen but, of course, it might not happen either. I do feel badly for them and I’m not sure we have a remedy for people who turned in their homework on time.”
The district’s re-bid, with less exclusive language, could result in more bidders.
Keith Cosbey, founder of Choicelunch, said his company withdrew from the initial bid process because they thought they misinterpreted a 10-mile delivery clause in the initial RFP. He said they are still very interested in serving the district and would re-apply. The private vendor provides healthy lunches to 185 schools throughout California.
The current vendor, the San Dieguito Union High School District, did not submit a bid because it determined it could not meet the requirements and maintain a meal price that kept the program viable, according to a letter sent to DMUSD by Eric Dill, associate superintendent of business services.
However, the high school district’s letter stated that it still wanted to be considered for a contract and could adapt its program to meet DMUSD’s needs.
Lunch committee member Yana Mohanty said she requested nutritional information on SDUHSD’s current offerings and said that they start with “poor quality products and add artificial colors and preservatives.”
Mohanty said when looking at the results of the district-wide survey conducted by the committee, a lunch with added nitrates, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and MSG does not make sense. Ninety-one percent of the 928 respondents said it was important to serve meals without those additives and 90 percent said it was important to have the children eating fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.
“I’m appalled at the current vendor,” said Sage Canyon parent Cynthia Rajsbaum. “They have done a horrific job to this point.”
DMUSD Board President Comischell Rodriguez said she had heard some positive reviews of SDUHSD’s program as they have made some changes to their menu in the past few months. A teacher even wrote a letter saying she was interested in purchasing the new lunches (teachers cannot purchase a hot lunch) because of the fresh fruit and vegetables that are being offered.
“The current vendor is listening,” Rodriguez said.
Parents on the lunch committee have expressed concerns that the district’s consultant may steer the board away from going with a private vendor and convince them to stay with the “status quo,” rejecting all bids and renewing their contract with the SDUHSD.
Lee Yen Anderson, chair of the DMUSD Parent Lunch Committee, gave the board a list of 20 school districts in California using private lunch vendors, including neighboring Rancho Santa Fe School District.
“We aren’t creating something new here,” Anderson said. “It’s the way progress is moving.”
Several parents in attendance encouraged the board to continue being open-minded and select a new vendor that is healthy and realistic, one that will appeal to the families across the entire district.
“We have a rare and fantastic opportunity to make a change for the better,” said Ashley Falls parent Lola Walker.