School Food Services Continues to Face Problems

Many schools are facing problems with their food service operations. In Boston, food service workers say they feel bullied by management, and in others students and staff are unhappy with the new healthy lunches.

Citywide problems in the Boston's food service program in schools is wasting millions of dollars each year and demonstrating a "hostile work environment" for staff, reports James Vaznis for The Boston Globe.

A study, which was sponsored by the Boston School Department and completed last month, discovered that food service had lost more than $21 million in eight years,. This comes as a shock since Boston implemented a plan to take control of expenditures and increase profit.

The issues with management are so bad that the food program does not even have a system to let cafeteria workers know if a student has food allergies, which puts the students in danger, says Vaznis. Also, the food services often formulate menus without the consultation of individual cafeteria managers which feature food that the cafeteria does not have, which puts them into a state of confusion.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said that the discovery of these problems is both "hard-hitting" and "disturbing." He claimed that the school department is making a plan to address some of the issues, including having the finance division in charge of food services rather than operations.

"The review did uncover and made allegations about severe deficiencies that require strong action," McDonough said in an interview, adding that he was most surprised by the work conditions employees faced.

"Management by intimidation" is how staff members see the management style of food service administrators, Vaznis writes. The study observed that "several employees became extremely emotional" in the interviews, while others would not talk for fear of retribution.

Cafeteria managers allegedly told interviewers that if they asked too many questions of the central food office, they were threatened with retribution. Staff also claimed their emails and calls to the food service department frequently went unanswered.

Meanwhile, in the midst of nationwide debate, House Republicans are aiming to permit some schools to opt out of the healthier school lunch and breakfast programs if they are losing funds, reports The Boston Herald. A GOP spending bill for agriculture and food programs would permit schools to receive waivers if they have a reoccurring loss on school food programs for a six-month period.

The new healthy lunch program has been implemented into schools over the last two years, with more reform coming in 2014. The new standards set fat, calorie, sugar and sodium ceilings on foods in schools.

Some schools maintain that the new standards are too restrictive and costly, while several schools have had nothing but success with putting the new standards in place. The school districts that are pushing for changes claim that the new ceiling on sodium and the whole grains requirement have proven very hard to afford. Other school officials claim that students are throwing away fruits and vegetables, therefore wasting money.

Nutrition advocates and other proponents of the healthy standards insist that it will take time for students to slide into the new rules and the House bill is too broad.

05 22, 2014
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