School meals should be a different experience for Abilene students when they return to class in August.
During a special meeting Monday morning the Abilene Board of Education voted to enter into an agreement with Opaa! Food Management, Inc., to provide school lunches/breakfasts beginning this fall — subject to approval by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE).
That means USD 435 no longer will be in the food system business and Opaa will take over everything that has to do with food, from ordering to preparing to serving — assuming KSDE gives the go-ahead.
“KSDE exercises a great deal of authority in this process,” Brown said.
That’s because school food service programs are funded by the federal government and money is collected by selling meals to students, teachers and others.
Superintendent Greg Brown said three food management companies responded to the 11 RFPs (requests for proposal) sent out by the school district. The other two companies were Chartwells and Taher.
All three of the companies that bid are serving Kansas schools, although Opaa has the most, including three nearby districts in Chapman, Solomon and Clay Center.
Opaa representatives prepared a meal for school board members and others in attendance during the Abilene USD 435 June 8 board meeting and gave a presentation explaining what they have to offer.
Besides preparing school meals, the Opaa representatives said they could also cater special events, could prepare carry out for ball teams to take with them and provide food for nearly every occasion.
Board Member Chris West asked if there would be an extra charge if sandwiches were made for the football team.
Opaa would bill for that, Brown said, but the company had built that into their estimation.
“Is this a significant savings? Is that why we’re doing this?” asked Board Vice-President Randy Gassman.
“We’re anticipating a significant savings,” Brown said. “Our food service is a little tricky. Ours has not been losing money. It holds its own. It’s not like it’s a broken system you have to fix. We’re looking at ways to make it a little better.”
In visiting with the bidding companies, all three said Abilene schools would save a certain amount of money, Brown said.
“The Opaa bid was approximately $200,000 less than the other two,” Brown said. “I think that reflects a little bit in terms of savings of money.”
The Opaa bid was not available due to proprietary reasons since the contract still is pending, Assistant Superintendent Chris Cooper said Monday afternoon.
Board Member Jennifer Waite asked if current staff would remain or if they would have to reapply.
Brown said current staff would remain, although some had resigned because they knew the district was looking at the possibility of contracting out food service.
“Opaa will work with us. It’s not like they will bring in unknown people. All hires will need administrative approval,” Brown said. “We will be very connected with that process.”
Brown also noted that many who had left did so because they were near retirement age.
After the meeting, Cooper said there will be a transitional period, where USD 435 will continue to employ some, while others will be Opaa employees.
Gassman said he was concerned by the loss of employees, but Brown said many who resigned did not want to work under conditions expected by Opaa.
Cooper said Opaa requires more kitchen work, including a lot more cutting of fruit and vegetables.
Brown noted that Abilene food service employee Dori Collins worked for Opaa at one time and she felt Opaa’s expectations were “very reasonable.”
Waite said she is excited to see more fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu and was interested in utilizing local sources.
When Opaa representatives talked to the board, they indicated the company likes to use local resources whenever available.
Brown said he has been having an “ongoing conversation” with a local meat producer and he hopes to get some type of arrangements established with the local producer this fall.
The agreement approved by the school board Monday is a five-year contract, renewable every year and includes a price for everything they produce. Brown said prices cannot go higher than the consumer price index.
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com.