Since the start of the school year, a private company has been in charge of food service in Sandwich’s school cafeterias.
This is a big change from past years, when the district handled food services in-house.
The school board voted last spring to outsource the district’s food services as a cost-cutting measure.
Superintendent of schools C. Richard Canfield told the board that the move would save the district money, particularly in health benefits.
One month into the new school year, reviews of the new food service program have been mostly positive. However, it is too soon to tell if more students are opting for the cafeteria food.
Michelle J. Austin, director of business and finance operations at the Sandwich schools, said yesterday that the company hired for the job, Whitsons Culinary Group of Islandia, New York, is required under its contract to report their program numbers every month.
“Since September was the first month of school, numbers haven’t come in yet,” she said. “In the accounting world, it takes about two weeks to close the books for the previous month. So it’s a bit premature to ask this question or report on any numbers.”
But Ms. Austin had nothing but praise for Whitsons’ performance in the schools.
“I think they are doing great,” Ms. Austin said. “The kids seem to love the food. We are very happy with their performance so far, especially the training they are providing the employees. Whitsons management is very attentive and shows great attention to detail.”
Mary O’Brien, Whitsons food service director for the Sandwich schools, said most of the food served in the Sandwich school cafeterias is being prepared from scratch. She said full salad bars also are being offered at all four Sandwich public schools.
Of the 22 people now working full- or part-time in the program, Ms. O’Brien said, 13 stayed on from the former in-house program. She said all the food service workers in the in-house program were offered positions with Whitsons.
But not everyone is singing Whitsons’ praises, including at least one of the former food service workers, Patricia O. Casey, the director of the former in-house food services program.
Yesterday, Ms. Casey said, “The district told the townspeople that Whitsons would be offering new healthier foods, would be installing and upgrading old district equipment and would be able to increase participation of students.
“At this time I have not seen any of these changes implemented,” she said. “Equipment has not been fixed or upgraded, the high school has the same five options for lunch every day—not sure [how that is healthy]—and increase in participation has yet to be seen. I have heard from staff that they do not feel welcomed in the lunch room anymore.”
Ms. O’Brien said the food service workers have been hearing from the students that they enjoy the Whitsons offerings.
Yesterday, Ms. Austin said school officials are “very happy” with the performance and training of the staff under Whitsons.
“They are doing a great job, the kids and the parents seem to be very happy and we have been getting lots of compliments,” she said. “The food is nutritious and tastes great.”
As for Ms. Casey, who had worked for 17 years in the food service program—six as bookkeeper and 11 as director—she continues to look for work. She said she hopes to find a position covered by the Barnstable County retirement system, but has been finding few opportunities finding such a job in the food service field.