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Rock Hill schools plan to outsource food services

Eyeing a move out of the kitchen, Rock Hill school officials plan to outsource the district's food service division.

The district is accepting proposals from vendors interested in running the school breakfast and lunch program.

Whomever the school board chooses could be awarded a contract as early as June 1, according to a timeline board members received at a meeting Monday night.

Officials said they hope an outside company specializing in food service can make school lunch appealing to more students, enticing them to start buying it.

Roughly 65 percent of Rock Hill schools' 17,300 students eat school lunches, officials said.

"As we are losing funds everywhere, we feel like the experts in this field can do a better job than we can," said Elaine Bilton, the district's finance director.

If Rock Hill outsources the breakfast and lunch services, the district would join eight others in the state - including Clover schools - that have done the same, Bilton said.

The district's food department operates like others in public school systems across the country - as a self-sustaining business.

The department makes money from students who pay full price and from the federal government, which subsidizes meals for students from low-income homes.

Officials have been exploring the idea of outsourcing for about a year and began advertising in December.

The vendor that wins the contract would be expected to keep food service employees on the job for five years, officials said. And a district-office employee would act as a liaison.

A seven-member committee will review vendor proposals, said Debi Gantt, the district's procurement coordinator.

While the committee has representatives from an elementary, middle and high school as well as food services, no parents or representatives from the public are part of the group.

School board member Jane Sharp took issue with that, particularly at a time when she said board members have been hearing from people concerned with children's nutrition and high rates of childhood obesity.

Parents and the public should have a say up front, not after the district chooses a vendor, Sharp said.

Superintendent Lynn Moody said she would have her staff look into possibly involving the public.

"We need to do that," Sharp said.