The largest food vendor for the Washington, DC school district has settled a lawsuit for $19.4 million after charges of mismanagement and fraudulent conduct.
It appears that the DC Council will be approving a contract with the same food company for next year, which has some wondering why the school district would stick with a company that they have already accused of providing poor quality food for an inflated price.
Chartwells and Thompson Hospitality allegedly overcharged the city and delivered inadequate quantities of substandard food that was often late or spoiled. The attorney general’s complaint said that the company knowingly submitted false invoices and inflated costs, according to Emily Field of Law 360.
Chartwells-Thompson did not admit to any wrongdoing, writes Michael Alison Chandler of the Washington Post.
Emily Gustafsson-Wright, a DC Public Schools parent who has raised concerns about healthy school lunches before, said:
I don’t get it. It’s a shock. Why would you go down the same path? I think we should have higher standards.
The lawsuit was brought by Jeffrey Mills, executive director of the school system’s Office of Food and Nutritional Services, who settled a separate lawsuit last year accusing the school system of unfairly firing him in 2013 for bringing attention to these concerns.
The contract expires in 2017, but the committee has a chance to challenge it every year — a chance that ends this week. No one has made a move, with justification being that there is not enough time to change vendors before school begins, and that most of the concerns have been addressed. DC is set to spend $32 million on this company in the next year.
Council member Mary M. Cheh called for the auditor to investigate the contract and whether the company should be trusted with future contracts. The inspector general began an audit of the food service program to evaluate food quality and satisfaction.
Lena Jones, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, said:
The lunches may be healthier, but no one seems to want to eat them. Why? Because the food is not prepared well enough, and although the school may announce what’s for lunch, kids still cannot tell what it is. They ask questions like, ‘This is chicken?’
Council member David Grosso, chairman of the Education Committee, said that voting against the contract could affect the summer food program that feeds students when school is out of session. He plans to hold an investigation in September after the council’s two-month recess.
Chartwell-Thompson’s parent company faced a similar lawsuit in 2012 in New York, settling it for $18 million, according to WTOP.