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Rock Hill schools chief Moody defends selection process of food service vendor

After Rock Hill school officials choose a company to take over the district’s food services, the public will be able to weigh in on what is served in the lunchroom, Superintendent Lynn Moody said Tuesday.

Moody defended the closed-door process of choosing a vendor, which involved of a seven-member committee – all but one of whom are district employees – meeting in private to discuss undisclosed proposals from two global food service corporations.

The information about what the companies – Sodexo and Chartwells – propose to offer is protected by law, Moody said, and has even been kept from her and other officials.

Government agencies often follow such procurement processes when seeking contracted services such as architecture or construction work.

“The people you want at the table aren’t going to come if your process doesn’t have integrity,” Moody said.

“The closed process is trying to figure out which one of these companies we want to go with. All we’re doing is trying to determine who will offer that service, not what it is.”

Moody’s response followed stories in The Herald in which school board member Jane Sharp and parent Debra Van Aller Dahlin said the evaluation committee didn’t have enough objective parent voices. They urged officials to be more open with the public about what’s happening with food services.

Rock Hill school officials have explored the idea of outsourcing for about a year. They have said they hope an outside company specializing in food service can run the district’s operation more efficiently.

On Monday, officials created a page on the district’s website addressing concerns about the plan to privatize food operations.

The page offers the most information so far on officials’ vision for food service. Possibilities include partnerships with local farmers and fruit and vegetable gardens at schools, the page says.

“We found that with the resources of a management company we would be able to provide opportunities for our students and our community that far outweighs what we would be able to do on our own,” officials wrote.

The page includes a list of questions and answers regarding what could happen to employees, the district’s view of South Carolina’s procurement law, the district’s “request for proposal” and how things could change.

Not all the answers posted are clear.

In response to what the district is doing about processed foods, officials wrote that news reports cited processed food in cafeterias generally.

“None of these comments has been specifically alleged to cafeterias in Rock Hill Schools,” officials wrote.

Rock Hill schools serve processed foods, including processed chicken, bacon, corn dogs and deli meats, among others.

Mashed potatoes, for instance, are processed with preservatives. The flake-like product comes in sealed packets and must be reconstituted with hot water.

Processed foods considered unhealthy typically contain preservatives, excess sodium and saturated fat.

Multiple studies have linked processed meat consumption to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Part of the reason the district wants to outsource, Moody said, is to improve school food.

“What we’re trying to get to is a higher quality food for the same price,” she said.

Sharp said she’s glad to see district leaders make an effort to release more information. But she has concerns, given research that shows outsourcing elsewhere has led to employee benefit cuts and unhealthy food.

Still, Sharp said, the new web page is “a step in the right direction.”

Shawn Cetrone •  803-329-4072