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Del Mar school district terminates lunch provider contract, begins search for new vendor

Del Mar Union School District
(Kristina Houck)

The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) is looking for a new vendor to provide healthy school lunches to its students. DMUSD Assistant Superintendent Cathy Birks said there were issues from day one with the new provider, LunchMaster, and only a month into the school year the district submitted a 30-day notice to terminate its contract on Oct. 17.

However, LunchMaster requested that the district terminate the contract earlier on Oct. 2. A special board meeting was held on Sept. 28 to bring back the district’s old vendor, Choicelunch, on a temporary 90-day contract. The district will seek bids by possible vendors before selecting one to provide lunch service for the remainder of the school year and fulfill a five-year contract.

When the district went out to bid for the lunch contract before the 2015-16 school year, only two vendors responded. Birks said LunchMaster was considered comparable to Choicelunch in terms of food quality and taste.

“We did receive a lot of e-mails from families saying that [LunchMaster] was not comparable,” Birks noted.

Pricing was also an issue as Choicelunch was increasing its cost of lunch from $5.15 to $5.50. LunchMaster’s meals were $5. The lunch includes a standard entrée, a choice of vegetable or fruit or both, one snack and one beverage.

The district will advertise for bids on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16 and materials will be available on its website under business services. The deadline for proposals will be Nov. 6, with the goal to bring a recommendation to the board by December.

The request for proposal will include criteria that came out of the district’s Child Nutrition Committee, such as meals prepared from scratch daily, fresh fruit and vegetables not from a canned source, whole grains, no artificial colors or preservatives, and meats that are free of nitrates and added hormones.

The vendor must also adhere to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) requirements, which includes parameters about food safety, packaging and nutritionally compliant serving sizes. As a member of the NSLP, the district is reimbursed for free and reduced lunches.

DMUSD has logistical challenges for a vendor to stick to the NSLP requirements.

“Our biggest hurdle is that we don’t have warming kitchens,” DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg said, noting that in addition to having no kitchen facilities on campuses, they are also challenged by the fact that they serve meals outside rather than inside, which comes with its own set of requirements.

Birks said online ordering is a big plus for families and will be a criteria the district looks for in a new provider as well as the cost: it is a requirement of the cafeteria fund that the program be cost neutral.

DMUSD board member Scott Wooden asked if the district would be able to cast a wider net if they were not part of the NSLP, resulting in possibly more bids to choose from and a lower cost as he said $5.50 is getting expensive.

“The higher the cost goes, more people will drop out and we will not have the income to make it sustainable,” Wooden said.

McClurg said she knows of no public school district that doesn’t comply with NLSP.


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