In a recent public meeting, Mr. Hurley made the observation that he is proud of the district’s academic programs, of the staff who deliver the curriculum so well and of the students who always seem to exceed expectations, no matter how high the bar is set. He’s proud of the district’s athletic programs and co‐curricular programs and of the success of the staff and students involved. He is, however, not proud of the district’s food service operations.
Currently, our food service operations look like this:
At Rutherford High School, all students have the option to leave the premises for the lunch break. They may go home, to a friend’s house, or to grab some pizza or a sandwich on Park Avenue. While this is understandably a very popular option, it is not without its safety and security risks. The students are still the district’s responsibility during the lunch break.
RHS students also have the option to brown‐bag it, or to take advantage of the a la carte options in the existing pantry (provided by Nu‐Way Concessionaires) if they prefer to stay in to study, socialize, or meet with teachers or clubs. In either case, the small cafeteria cannot accommodate them all, particularly in bad weather, and they often dine in the choir room, stairwells or hallways.
In the elementary schools, the students have options to purchase lunch through the PTAs and other private programs, but the district has an obligation to provide a lunch alternative as well, if only to offer lunch to students eligible for free or reduced‐price meals. In addition, all programs must comply with federal nutrition guidelines.
To provide a lunch program, the Board annually contracts with Becton Regional High School for the preparation and delivery of lunch to the five elementary schools. Becton, in turn, contracts with Pomptonian Food Services, a well‐known and highly regarded food service management company, to provide their lunch program, so we are piggy‐backing off of that.
From a practical standpoint, how does this work? Parents interested in ordering lunch through Pomptonian go on‐line, once a month, to our ordering system. Once logged in, they will see the available menu for each school day in the upcoming month, as prepared by Pomptonian. Parents place their orders, pay by credit card and log out. This portal, however, is only open for ten days prior to the start of the month, so, for example, meals for October must be ordered between September 17 and September 27. Most people would not want to commit to a lunch order a month in advance, but this is the system we need to have in place.
Once the portal is closed, the orders are shared with Pomptonian so that they may plan accordingly. Each morning, they prepare the meals in Becton’s kitchen and deliver them to our schools. Are mistakes sometimes made in filling an order? Yes, of course. Our staff do a great job, however, in quickly correcting any errors so that no child goes without lunch, but they still have to wait for the missing lunch to be delivered from Becton.
Remember that Becton is on a high school schedule and runs earlier than our elementary schools. This often means that lunch is delivered much earlier than our students need it. For example, on September 18, the meals were delivered to Lincoln School at 10:15, but the lunch service doesn’t begin until 11:45. No matter the initial quality of the prepared meal at the time it left Becton, it didn’t improve in that 90 minutes.
So, at the end of the day, we have a system that doesn’t work for anyone. Parents don’t like the process; kids don’t like the food. School staff hope for better quality and a more timely delivery schedule. And this agreement with Becton doesn’t even pay for itself; the Board pays $15,000 to $25,000 each year into the program.
Overall, our food service operations are failing our kids, parents and the district, as we have no control over food quality, preparation, presentation or even the menu. In addition, we are missing a valuable opportunity to teach good nutrition habits to our students.
The plan to build a new district‐wide kitchen and cafeteria at Rutherford High School will address all of these issues.
The proposed cafeteria at RHS would be able to accommodate approximately half of the school’s student body at any one time, significantly more than the current cafeteria can hold. While no decision has yet been made to restrict the existing open campus lunch policy, it is beneficial to all to offer a comprehensive lunch program in‐house, so that on bad weather days or testing days or any other day, an alternative to leaving the campus is available.
The in‐house kitchen would be able to accommodate all the RHS students it needs to on any given day over the course of two periods, but would also be able to prepare meals for distribution to the elementary schools. With this resource, the district would have full control over the menu, food quality, presentation and delivery. In addition, orders could be placed in something close to real time, not a month in advance.
Operationally, the district would outsource the management of the district’s food service program to a state‐approved Food Service Management Company. While no particular company has been identified or even spoken to about this, they will ultimately be selected by way of a competitive process that identifies the district’s needs, requests proposals from qualified companies and determines who best will meet those needs. That company would be responsible for staffing, purchasing, food preparation, serving, delivery and clean‐up. They would manage the sales and the cash, subject to district oversight and review. The agreement may provide a return to the district to help offset its costs.
Prior to selecting the company, the district would develop specifications for the program, with community input, that would detail the offerings to the students. Offerings could include a daily salad bar, a deli bar, pizza, hot meals, daily specials, themed events and farm‐to‐school options. All meals will meet or exceed federal and state nutritional guidelines.
The kitchen and cafeteria facilities can also serve as a resource for the Borough’s OEM services, so that in the event of a natural disaster, such as another Superstorm Sandy, the centralized location in town would be available for shelter and meals. The Borough currently has no such facility of an appropriate scale.
As you prepare to vote on October 2, we encourage you to consider the current state of our food service operations and the benefits that a new facility and program could bring.
For additional information on the referendum, including Funding & Tax Impact, FAQ’s, Presentation schedule and more, please visit our website at www.rutherfordreferendum.com.
Rutherford Referendum – Please vote on October 2. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.