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BPS releases report on Food and Nutrition Services

To BPS staff and the community,

Among the first steps my leadership team and I took last fall was to request a review of our Food and Nutrition Services Department by the Council of the Great City Schools. These external reviews allow us access to expert opinions and recommendations so we can develop a road map to address challenging situations. They are also useful to learn about best practices in other large districts and how they could be implemented here.

In the case of Food and Nutrition Services, we sought guidance in part because the Department’s annual operating deficit, which had been shrinking, is widening again. 

We asked the Council’s team for assistance in these primary areas: 

  • To explore existing and recommend new strategies to reduce the operating deficit;
  • To review and evaluate the leadership and management, organization, and operations; and
  • To develop recommendations that would help the district’s food service operations achieve greater operational efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability. 

The team from the Council of the Great City Schools visited us in November and met with my leadership team, the leadership of Food and Nutrition Services, as well as FNS staff at all levels and several principals. They analyzed financial statements, reviewed strategic plans as well as dozens of other documents, observed kitchen staff prepare meals, and sat with students in the cafeteria at lunchtime. 

What they found was, in their words, “troubling.” I agree. 

We have posted the full report to our website so you can read it for yourself. I welcome the findings and recommendations contained in the report even though they are both hard-hitting and disturbing. We take them seriously and have already begun to address some of the major findings.

Just to be clear, I want to ensure that there is no lack of clarity regarding the following:

  • Under no circumstances will BPS ever tolerate a hostile work environment.
  • Systems and structures for internal control of both cost and quality that are lacking will be remedied. There is no place in our school district that can allow for practices that result in service that is contrary to what we know is in the best interest of students and their readiness to learn.
In examining the role of district support for schools during the FY15 budget cycle, we have already moved the Food & Nutrition Services Department to report directly to the Chief Financial Officer. We will be working with all interested parties to develop and implement a specific plan of action.

While this report makes it clear that there is plenty to be done, let us not forget what we have accomplished. This school year BPS became one of the first large districts in the nation to offer universal free meals to every child regardless of income status. This spring, we are in the midst a competitive selection process to choose our next food service provider so we can continue to improve the quality of meals we serve our students. I believe we have made significant progress in many areas – and this is the result of hard, continuous and often thankless work by a dedicated team of staff in the Food and Nutrition Services department. The report, rightly, commends this group of men and women for doing excellent work on behalf of our schools and our students despite a challenging environment.

As you read the attached report, you will see examples of staff members who were afraid to speak to the CGCS team or who became emotional during their interviews. I know it wasn’t easy to do, but hearing your perspective will help us make things better. I would like to thank you for coming forward. The CGCS team went out of their way to express how impressed they were with the level of professionalism, dedication and care that they saw when speaking with the men and women who prepare and serve meals for our students. What you do is important, and you deserve to work in an environment that is rewarding, not uncomfortable.

We will make it right, and with this report, we can do it together. 

Sincerely, 

John McDonough 

Interim Superintendent