School Meals Vendor holds HISD hostage

How do I come to this conclusion? Let me explain.

[Disclaimer: This posting is based on my personal understanding of the facts as they are known to me as of the date of this posting. If there are misunderstandings or inaccuracies contained herein, I hope these will come to light in the very near future]

What happened?: Jan 31 – our high school principal made a decision to shut down the PTO lunch-time Chick-Fil-A sales fundraiser. This is run by the PTO to raise money for the Senior class Safe-After-Prom-Project.

Some Background Notes:
What is a “Safe-After-Prom-Project”? It’s a big bash after the prom, with lots of prizes, games, and fun activities that encourages all the prom attendees to stay in place, rather than move on to other who-knows-what-kinda-trouble-they-might-get-into events. Seem like a good idea? For sure!
Why did the Principal shut down the fundraiser? He heard that several other schools in our district had been fined for non-compliance regarding food sales outside the umbrella of the district’s Food Sales jurisdiction. Fines of $29K and $34K magnitude. That’s the kind of $ a school cannot risk losing. You get fined first, appeal later. Seem like a good idea? Oh yes, that would wipe out our after-prom funds.

Then What Happened?: It was initially understood that the fine was a result of an audit conducted by the State Agriculture Dpt. They were contacted and a request made for for the Agricultural Dpt. to inspect our setup, confirm compliance and give the Principal the green light to allow the fundraiser to resume. ASAP, please, as we are counting on these funds for our seniors … we’re losing ~$1,500 / week. Seem like a good idea? Yep – need to stand-down and figure this out.

The plot thickens: It seems that Agricultural Department has turned this back over to the school district Food Sales dpt. There is indication that the concerns are not with food healthiness rating or handling, but rather with proximity to the cafeteria sales. Huh? There are rules in place that do not allow co-mingling of the consumption of lunches served by the official school meals vendor with food from any other source. I think I must have lost the plot?@#!! How did the Agriculture Department get involved then? Seem like a good idea?  …. No! Wait. You mean that the kids with a cafeteria lunch cannot sit next to the kids with the fundraiser food? I’m confused, is it just me?

What lies underneath this madness?: The most popular theory is that the school meals vendor, has a stranglehold, not only over the food that they sell on campus, but have reached way beyond that and into control over any food that can be brought onto a ‘closed’ campus. Their reach appears to be far and wide. Sounds like a non-compete clause in a contract. Sounds like organizations we thought were put in place with our tax dollars to protect the best interests of our students are now in the pockets of big business. Have they instituted a monopoly on food sales on our campuses?  Seem like a good idea? … NO! again NO! We had understood that school meals were a not-for-profit business? What went wrong?

What’s Next?: The PTO is actively working through connections to local politicians and talented parents to fight against this ridiculous stranglehold. Why are we spending scarce time and energy to fight to preserve something that seems like a no-brainer-right-thing to do? How can we allow our school district to institute a policy that works against our children like this? Will they be prevented from eating their PB&J sandwiches from home next? What deal did they strike with the school meals vendor behind closed doors? Seem like a good idea … NO, and NO again and again! When did we start favoring the interests of the food vendors over our kids?

Can we please have a sensible conversation about this that concludes with doing the right thing? There has to be a win-win here somewhere. I’m not so cynical (yet) to believe that we have to lay down and submit to this.

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About lynnmorstead

Writing about the small things that shape our lives
This entry was posted in education, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to School Meals Vendor holds HISD hostage

  1. Nick Alvarado says:

    I don’t have any insider information but this is a response based on the years of hearing of various school issues related to food sales: The US Ag. department provides cheap food stuffs to districts to produce school lunches. The same department also gives money to schools for each meal they serve. In order to get that money, schools have to comply with the departments guidelines on preparation, nutrition and other factors. The district has a contract with Aramark to provide management to it’s food services department. Aramark has to comply with the regulations that are set forward for it. Yet schools, PTO’s, or other vendors begin to introduce food very nearby the cafeteria and lure away students with high calorie, low nutrient foods. This reduces the sales that Aramark makes, undermines their business model they bid on, gives students poor food choices, and may not be served/stored correctly. Offering fried chicken, donuts, ice cream, is an easy sell but a bad choice for students, yet we come to rely on that income for all kinds of worthy goals. It sounds like the PTO needs to know the rules around food sales, audit their practices and propose a new operation that is in compliance with the standard rules. The fines were around $2,000 at the worst for other schools, so it’s about one weeks sales. Maybe it’s worth paying the fine each time, like a parking ticket, so you can keep selling. Maybe it’s just easier to follow the guidelines for food sales and make adjustments where possible. I’m sure the Chicks will be back.

    • lynnmorstead says:

      Thanks for weighing in on this with your experience. The challenge continues to be transparency of what the guidelines truly are. The PTO is very keen to comply but has not yet been able to get clarity!

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