With New Contract, Opaa! Foods Looks for Improvement at SJSD

By Alan Van Zandt | avanzandt@kq2.com

Published 05/06 2014 11:22PM

Updated 05/08 2014 11:31AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) After losing $500,000 on its food service program during the 2012-13 school year, St. Joseph School District officials knew something had to change.

With the blessing of the Board of Education, school leaders decided to outsource its food program.

Now, after several months on the job and receiving a new one-year contract, Opaa! Foods and the school district both hope the kinks have been worked out.

The decision to outsource food services to Opaa! Foods was an easy one for SJSD Chief Operating Officer Rick Hartigan.

"They have volume purchasing and they have great professional development for staff."

As the low bidder for the job, Opaa! Foods, based in the St. Louis metro area, earned the contract. They provide meals to stodents at 100 school districts, primarily in Missouri, and focus on providing nutritious, healthy foods to students.

"We have a wellness and nutrition program," said Opaa! Nutrition Services Director Tonya McCrea. "We have registered dieticians on staff. It is basically a calculated system with so many components for a given week. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. Our dieticians do a fantastic job."

The transition to Opaa! hasn't been entirely smooth as kids haven't bought into the program yet. School district numbers show fewer lunches being sold to students. Through February, an average of 7,385 lunches are sold per day, down nearly 10 percent from the same period last year, when 8,076 were sold.

School officials say they expected this reduction.

"We anticipated there would be a bit of pushback and there was," Hartigan said. "The deal was Opaa! had to use our existing product. It's frozen, it's government commodity product. It's not the fresh, cooked product they are famous for. We're not a wealthy school district. We can't just jettison food product and say we're going to start over."

"We currently insert those into the Opaa! program which normally we wouldn't have to do, McCrea said. "We've had to take those products that the government basically gave us and incorporate them. Next year we will be out of those products and we will be able to officially have the entire Opaa program in place."

McCrea says the Opaa! program includes cooking from scratch and monitoring what foods kids take to make sure they choose a balanced meal.

"As they go through the line, our kitchen staff watches," McCrea said. "When they get to the end of the line, they have to be calculated in a computer. Whoever is at that register, make sure they have three of the five components."

A big benefit to the school district has been cost savings. Where the district was losing $500,000 on its program last year, this year Hartigan is expecting a $500,000 profit. Hartigan says that means the district will be able to offer free breakfast to all students next year.

"It doesn't cost the families anything, it doesn't cost the taxpayers anything," he said. "It's for running a more efficient, more cost effective program allows us to plow that money and reinvest it in our kids."

Officials at schools that have already experimented with what is called "universal breakfast" say they already are seeing benefits.

"Having breakfast and having universal breakfast where all kids can come down and eat, it's real exciting," said Michael Otto, principal at Coleman Elementary. "The kids are ready to learn, less behavior problems, their tummy's are full."

Wednesday on KQ2 we will further explore the addition of Opaa! to the St. Joseph School system and some of the other growing pains the district has had to endure.

Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.