School Board rejects terminating contract for school food vendor

Ronald E. Carrington | 9/23/2021, 6 p.m.
The Richmond School Board and schools administration debated the future of who will be contracted to provide meals to the ...
Ms. White

The Richmond School Board and schools administration debated the future of who will be contracted to provide meals to the city’s 24,000 students and what they will eat after last week’s public outrage over the condition, quality and nutritional value of the “Grab and Go” meals delivered to schools daily by provider Preferred Meals.

The board learned last week that students were filling trash cans with the pre-packaged meals that were unappetizing and hard to identify.

At Monday night’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Jason Kamras reiterated the administration’s awareness of the sub- standard quality of the meals and Preferred Meals’ delivery performance, along with parents’ concerns and the wasted food and dollars spent on the contract.

Mr. Kamras

Mr. Kamras

Mr. Kamras said that, effective immediately, RPS School Nutrition Services supervisors are required to conduct a meal quality control check each week at all schools.

The checklist includes verifying receipt of school meals on the approved menu with the total meal required to meet nutritional standards; whether meals are being stored and served at the appropriate temperature and being served before the best served by date; that meals are meeting quality standards for taste, smell, freshness and packaging (sealed and free from damage); and recording what meals students are tossing out so adjustments can be made.

Supervisors will be required to document their findings and take photos, review their findings with their supervisor and implement corrective action as necessary, according to Mr. Kamras.

The checklists and photos also must be sent to the director of School Nutrition Services.

However, School Board member Mariah L. White, 2nd District, offered a motion to cancel Preferred Meals’ $12.9 million contract in 30 days and contract on an emergency basis with local restaurants or vendors until a new contractor and staff are hired to prepare hot meals for students.

Board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District, sought to amend the motion to include responsibilities for which the Kamras administration would be held accountable in resolving the food issue.

“We need the superintendent, as he works with Nutrition Services, to provide a contingency plan that identifies who the plan will impact and when the issue will be resolved,” Ms. Harris-Muhammed said.

However, board Chair Cheryl L. Burke, 7th District, who said change needs to take place, expressed concerns.

“If we let (Preferred Meals) go, by the end of the week what will our children eat?” Ms. Burke asked. “There is a lot to be addressed, because what has happened with the meals is unacceptable.”

Ms. White’s motion, however, was rejected on a 5-4 vote.

According to Mr. Kamras, the administration is working with Preferred Meals to provide hot meals — not from scratch, but with items heated prior to serving — in all preschools and elementary schools during the next several weeks.

In order to make the transition and maintain COVID-19 safety protocols, RPS needs to hire one cafeteria manager and 24 food service assistants for the high schools; 27 food service assistants for middle schools; and nine cafeteria managers and 38 food service assistants for elementary schools.

In other matters, the RPS administration said there are 11 vacant bus driver positions, four of which are expected to be filled shortly.

Transportation for preschool students will begin Monday, Oct. 4, and extended day transportation will begin Monday, Oct. 11, officials said. Until then, parents will be responsible for their child’s transportation to and from school.