Earlier this year, the Warren County School District discovered problems with its food service program and its provider, Aramark.
Cold pizza, uncooked food, the same items on the menu all the time and limited choices were some of the problems that student groups reported to Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel when he sat down with them to hear their concerns.
As a testament to the work that Aramark did in rectifying those issues, changing the administration of the Warren program, ensuring that there is staff on site every day as well as providing new food options, the school district's board of directors approved Aramark as the food service provider for next school year during Thursday night's special meeting.
When the problems were discovered, school district administration made the determination to seek RFPs (requests for proposals) to see if a better answer to the food service question might be found, even examining the benefits and costs of running the program in house.
Of the three proposals received earlier this month, Aramark put together the best financial arrangement and ultimately won the contract.
"(I) had a chance to observe rather early on a number of the elements of the process...I'm pleased that we are operating this particular resolution," board member John Grant said. "I commend Aramark leadership for their response to us and our administrative response."
Board President Arthur Stewart took a different tone.
Aramark's proposal was a "superior proposal from a financial prospect," he said. "That's all well and good. (The new) programs were well received. We finished out a year with a temporary administration in place. What assurances do we have and what course of action do you see yourselves taking in the fall?"
"I think what you're administration has made very clear...we understand the importance now more than ever of having the right team on site," Dan Natterman, a representative with Aramark, said. "When we have that in place, we get very positive results.
"I think that what will take place starting tomorrow is a pretty in-depth search...to first make sure we have vetted out all our candidates and that we are putting the right person in there to operate that program," he added.
He explained some of the in-house problems that caused the lapse in service during last school year.
"We did not have consistency at my role or the leader above myself," Natterman explained. "I think we have developed that consistency."
As a corrective measure, he said that he will focus on "really calibrating with administration on (a) regular basis to see where the program is currently (and) be very corrective in adjusting our program as rapidly as we can."
Board member Mike Zamborik chastised Natterman for his company's failures. Explaining that, based on what he had discussed with the board in executive session prior to the meeting, "You can see where you're failing was."
Stewart asked Natterman if "you have any interest is coming back to us (in October or November) and showing that you have taken that quality control seriously," indicating that dialogue with students would be the most accurate evaluation as the student is the consumer.
"We have an online survey tool or we could do something a little less formal," Natterman explained, emphasizing that he is willing to pursue "student feedback and where we are against the goals in our proposal. As we make traction against those (goals), I think student feedback would be a crucial piece of that.
"I would like the opportunity to give the board regular updates," he added.
"Aramark lost the support of many good employees," Hufnagel said.
Natterman replied that "part of that comes with credibility (the supervisor will bring). The other piece of that will be involving some of the key staff members in the actual interview process for the candidates."
Board member Paul Yourchisin asked if the program manager would be in place by the start of school this fall.
"That is my intention," Natterman said. "We have a 'Plan B' which is a continuation of the interim from last year. We are going to start the recruitment process immediately.
Business Manager Jim Grosch explained that, until the manager is found, someone will still be on site from Aramark on a daily basis "until that permanent replacement is here."
Aramark's proposal estimated total cost to run the food service program next year at $1,876,156.15. With a revenue projection of $1,976,703.30, the contract provides a guaranteed $100,547 profit to the district. Should the program generate less profit than that, Aramark is responsible for the difference.