BoE gives final approval to food service vendor contract

In an abbreviated regular meeting before moving to the MHS auditorium for the annual meeting of electors, the Merrill Area Public Schools approved a one-year contract privatizing food service operations in the district.

By an 8-0 vote, the board awarded the contract to Waverly, MN-based Chartwells for a fixed fee of $69,344. In exchange, Chartwells guarantees MAPS a profit of $80,562 and will invest an additional $50,000 in training for present staff and new equipment.

Suzy Matuska, Director of Sales for Chartwells, was on hand to answer questions from the board. A recent online comment to an article in the Wausau Daily Herald said that Chartwells had promised scratch cooking to a Washington D.C. school district, only to use packaged food instead. The comment directed readers to a blog that listed inconsistencies between the company’s claims and what it delivered.

“The first thing you have to understand is that blogs are opinion, and not always based on facts,” Matuska said.

She said the contract with the D.C. district required them to use prepackaged food at first, but it has since shown the district that scratch-made meals like it would prepare in Merrill are more economical as well as more nutritious.

Board President Jeff Verdoorn also took issue with the story in the Herald, which mistakenly said the contract had already been approved. The story reported on the recommendation a committee made up of students, administrators, food service workers, a board member and Director of Finance Louise Fischer made after a meeting last week.

“Nothing has been decided until we vote tonight,” Verdoorn said.

Chartwells was one of three companies bidding on the contract, along with Aviands and Taher. All three companies were graded on several areas, with Chartwells receiving the highest score of the three. In addition, Chartwells received additional points for having an onsite manager ready to become MAPS Food Service Director and had also worked out pricing with the district’s current food supplier that would not violate the existing contract.

In addition, Matuska said her company would work with local suppliers when possible.

Chartwells already provides food services for Church Mutual, Liberty Mutual in Wausau, as well as the Manitowoc and Hayward school districts.

The contract is for one year with the option to renew it annually for up to five years. At that time the district would again open the bidding process to any other interested company. It goes into effect August 1, and all MAPS food service workers will remain paid employees of the district.

Verdoorn praised Fischer and the committee for conducting the process so efficiently that the board was able to approve a contract in time for the company to have the entire month of August to get MAPS workers up to speed in how to prepare meals from scratch according to Chartwell’s standards.

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