Los Angeles Unified School District’ food services director David Binkle has resigned following a recent audit that found dramatic waste, ethical transgressions, and financial incompetence while he was employed.
Binkle was honored with national praise for the improvements he made in the district’s school meals. Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times reports that Binkle said that he retired from the district and will be receiving a pension, but LA Unified has stated that Binkle resigned.
Charges of mishandling the district’s former marketing program, put in place to encourage the consumption of healthy food, have been denied by Binkle. He also said he was innocent of engaging in any conflicts of interest in regard to his private consulting firm and his travel to school food conferences, trips that were paid for by vendors. All these actions were legal, said Binkle, and were approved by senior district officials, including Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King.
In December, Binkle was removed from his position while an investigation of the alleged wrongdoings took place, but continued to receive his $152,000 annual salary. He says he has not decided whether he will sue the district for libel, slander, and defamation, but added that he was keeping all his options open.
In 2008 Binkle, a professional chef, joined the district and quickly adopted menus lower in fat and sodium, added breakfast and dinner programs, increased the number of meals served daily by 76,000, and helped author guidelines for more healthful school food for the federal government and the LA Board of Education. His efforts were favorably acknowledged by First Lady Michelle Obama and were a topic for TedX Talks.
The audit found that problems started when the district decided in 2011 to let food services move away from regulation contracting standards, expecting that the change would result in administrative costs being lowered, reports Thomas Himes of the Los Angeles Daily News. In fact, this move gave Binkle almost complete control over contracts totaling many millions of dollars. This power allowed him to grant price increases, manipulate orders, and alter menus for contractors who in return paid for him to stay in a high-end hotel and paid for his airfare and lodging for a conference, according to the audit.
Even so, LAUSD plans to increase the number of dinners purchased from 70,000 a day to 140,000 in the upcoming school year.
According to the audit, the district could have purchased meals from Five Star Gourmet Foods for $1.20 per kit, but a middleman was added in the form of Gold Star Foods. The kits bought from Five Star by way of Gold Star cost the district $1.48 a meal. Investigators at the inspector general’s office are looking into the relationship between Binkle and Five Star Gourmet Foods.
When interviewed by phone, says Adolfo Guzman-Lopez of KPCC-Radio, Binkle said his resignation had nothing to do with the audit. He explained that he thought it was in his best interest to move on. As for the district’s investigation, Binkle said he was not treated fairly and was not properly informed about what was happening.
Binkle, 53, said he did not know what he will be doing in the future.