Students have been complaining about school lunches for about as long as there have been schools serving them.
The Warren County School District is looking to do what they can to change that tradition.
"One of the things we saw early on in the fall is we were having less meals served," Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel said on Wednesday.
"Meeting with student groups, there were lots of student complaints about the food being served," he added. "Whether it being the pizza cold, things uncooked, the same things on the menu all the time, number of choices, we knew there was a problem."
Aramark currently is the food service provider for the school district.
In response to the problems, the district has taken several steps.
First, they opened the floor for proposals from other companies. Hufnagel said that the open period for new proposals is almost through.
In the past few months, the district has also taken a look at whether food service could cost-effectively be done in-house.
But they haven't kicked Aramark to the curb yet.
"We had a meeting with Aramark, asking them to address the issues," Hufnagel explained. "Aramark actually sent somebody down from their corporate office to spend some time here and they agreed that there were some issues."
Hufnagel wasn't at liberty to explain all of the steps that Aramark took to resolve the problem, but he did identify several areas where Aramark has made significant changes throughout the district's schools.
Aramark also has the contract for the Millcreek schools food program and the company has assigned the food service director and assistant food service director in Millcreek to also be responsible for Warren County.
"So everyday we have someone from Millcreek here, overseeing the food service." Hufnagel said. "They also removed the food service director that was here."
He explained that "With that, the two folks that they brought over here, plus someone from their corporate office in Philadelphia, sat down and they watched every line and they would see 100 kids over on the pizza side and nobody on the other and they were noticing things like left over food and not good food counts everything that was leading to, basically, a loss."
As for changes the kids see, the most significant shift is the instillation of a panini bar in the cafeteria.
Instead of pre-made sandwiches and wraps, students now have the choice of two meats, two cheeses and a host of vegetables and dressings.
"Subway at WAHS," Hufnagel said.
"Those changes have actually increased our meals served," he added. "The kids seem a little bit happier and so it comes down to this, the kids are our clients. If they're not eating, and it's costing us money because they're not eating," then the district will look at all available options in the hopes of avoiding a financial loss.
And a loss is exactly what Hufnagel wants to avoid.
"The more it costs them to make a meal, the more money that's lost and the more the general fund has to absorb it."
Food service is supposed to be a budget-neutral, break-even proposition. The profits that are generated, if any, are put back into the food service program and used to cover costs such as equipment and salaries.
Fortunately for the school district, the current contract with Aramark guarantees a profit for the district, making any loss that comes from the food program the responsibility of Aramark.
Hufnagel said that, currently, the program is running in the area of a $40,000 to $50,000 loss.
Because of the guaranteed profit, "it was in their (Aramark) best interest to fix the program."
But the guaranteed profit isn't in every year of the contract.
"Each year of it, the guaranteed profit is going down, down and down and eventually, if they're (Aramark) operating at a loss, it's going to catch up to us and we're going to have to pay that bill.
"That and when you have kids complaining that you have burnt pizza or cold chicken patties, things like that, it's just not a good situation," he said.
"So my hats off to what Aramark has done now to try to fix the problem and get it back on track," Hufnagel added. "Whether it's a little too late I don't know. We'll see what comes in through the RFP's (request for proposals) and we'll make the best decision."
Hufnagel said that next year's food service provider will be in place by July 1.