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SJSD Addresses Employee, Vendor Issues with Food Services Outsourcing

Opaa! Foods was contracted after the district suffered a $500,000 loss in its food program during the 2012-13 school year.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Savings to the budget was the primary reason the St. Joseph School District decided to outsource its food service program.

In making the transfer, there have been continuing concerns about food service employees and the vendors who provide produce and other products.

"We're from a different town," said Tonya McCrea, nutrition manager for Opaa!, which is based in the St. Louis metro area. "I think there's always worry and always concern. Just because we're new, doesn't mean we are bad."

Opaa! was contracted after the district suffered a $500,000 loss in its food program during the 2012-13 school year.

"We came in to help the district financially," McCrea said. "When a company comes in town and nobody knows what Opaa! means, who Opaa! is. We didn't come in to take over the district and eliminate district jobs."

Some have been worried about the status of cooks as the new company came in to take over. District officials say their jobs were guaranteed.

"Every employee that was a St. Joseph School District employee had to remain that until such time that the person retired or was to leave," said Rick Hartigan, the district's chief operating officer. "If you were a first year employee when Opaa! came in, you could become a 30 year school district employee. We offered something very unique that most food management companies provide to their employees."

One issue the district had to take care of with the transfer to Opaa! was contracts the schools already had in place with area vendors.

Leupold's of St. Joseph supplied bread and other produce to the schools' kitchens. The district wrote them a $90,000 check to break the contract.

Leupold's would not talk to us about the situation saying they are considering their legal options. At least one other vendor tells us they are talking to a lawyer as well. But the schools say it was a good decision to make the transition.

"If I can spend $75,000 this year and know that I'm going to save $150,000 on that line item every year after, sign me up," Hartigan said. "That's a wonderful strategy."

"It's not our job to supplement margin," he continued. "It's our job to be frugal to taxpayer dollars. We're not here to subsidize and support people. We're here to be good custodians of the taxpayers dollars."

Through the changeover, instead of a $500,000 deficit, Hartigan expects the district to see a $500,000 profit by next year.

"Having a surplus and being able to run the program with a profit means, (A), we don't need to increase lunch prices in the foreseeable future, and (B), we can use any of that surplus to buy equipment and provide universal breakfast for kids."

Hartigan says each of the local vendors the district had worked with had the opportunity to supply Oopa! with product if they could do so at a reasonable price.

Last month, the district renewed its contract with Opaa! for another year.



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