School-lunch provider defends service after poor marks
May 21. 2014 6:00AM
The Dell Rapids School District renewed its contract with its food service provider last week, but school officials warned the company it won’t happen again if the quality of school lunches doesn’t improve next year.
A recent survey of Dell Rapids students in grades four, seven and 10 about school lunches raised some red flags for school board members and administrators when poll results indicated hot food is sometimes served cold, and many kids aren’t getting enough to eat.
The survey, conducted this spring by the district’s 12-year food service provider Lunchtime Solutions, Inc. (LSI), revealed just 20.5 percent of sophomores say hot meals at the high school are served hot. The same amount of high schoolers polled say they get enough to eat.
“That means that 80 percent disagree,” said Matt Weiland, board member. “There shouldn’t be any gray area there. If food is supposed to be hot, it should be hot. It’s an A or an F. It either is or it isn’t.”
Dell Rapids Superintendent Summer Schultz said some of the information revealed in the survey matches the anecdotes she’s heard throughout the school year.
“I’ve dealt with kids and parents who weren’t satisfied,” she said of LSI’s lunches.
Schultz said on more than one occasion, pizza at the elementary school was served undercooked, despite repeated complaints to LSI management.
“Last year … I talked with (LSI management) about the pizza that was so severely undercooked and poor tasting that the kids (wouldn’t eat it). If kids don’t eat pizza, what are they going to eat?” she said. “I was told that you get many complaints about the pizza, and a year later, we’re still talking about the pizza issue that doesn’t get addressed.”
Tam Edgar, regional manger for LSI, told the board at its regular meeting Monday, May 12 that the company is sensitive to the poll results and is strategizing to make improvements.
With regard to the undercooked pizza, Edgar said LSI has unsuccessfully searched for a better brand of pizza that might be easier to prepare and more appetizing.
“We looked at this last year … and we considered changing to a different brand,” she said. “There was not another pizza product that we could get that met (nutritional standards).”
Until another qualifying pizza product comes along, LSI might nix pizza from the menu in Dell Rapids completely if it continues to be problematic, Edgar said.
Inconsistent food temperatures, she said, might be caused by changes in nutrition standards implemented by the Obama administration two years ago, she said.
“It takes more time for the student to go through the line than it used to,” Edgar said. “Each student has to stop at the fruit and veggie bar. They have to make sure they have at least a half a cup or the point of sale person is required to send them back and get more.”
To fix the problem, Edgar said LSI plans to use a staggered line system to avoid bottle necking bottle-necking students in the serving area next school year.
The board approved the renewal of LSI’s estimated $445,000 contract for the 2014-2015 school year with the directive that the company conduct another survey in October so any concerns can be addressed earlier in the school year.
“We want to do the best we can do,” Edgar said. “We do the best we can do, and we continue to strive to improve.”