Lunch deal reconsidered

Centralia schools still might renew contract with food provider
Friday, March 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:42 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

After hiring an outside firm to serve school lunches for the first time, the Centralia school board is wrestling with whether to continue using the private company next year.

The board voted 4-3 against renewing the contract with Opaa Food Management last month. But it has put the issue back on the agenda for reconsideration at its March 14 meeting.

The move to reconsider the contract came in response to feedback from students, faculty and staff who were surprised at the board’s initial vote. Robert Sanders, the executive vice president of Opaa, said the vote to stop using the company came as a surprise.

“We did not even know that this was on the agenda until the afternoon of the meeting,” he said.

Because of the late notice, Opaa did not have a representative at the meeting, at which two parents spoke of small portions and running out of certain meal options by the last lunch period.

Board member Patt Olsen said she voted against the renewal because she believed it was too soon to renew the contract.

“There were still some issues that Opaa was trying to improve,” Olsen said. “They had just hired a new director. They deserve some time to work on this.” Centralia began using Opaa in August as an alternative to running its own lunch program.

“We were not happy with the food-service program run by the district before,” Superintendent Glenn Brown said. “That is why we looked into our other options.”

According to Lisa Frank, the regional director for Opaa, the company’s reception in Centralia schools has been positive.

“Participation in the Centralia school-lunch program was up by 22 percent this January from last January,” she said.

Company executives hope to continue working with the school district to develop a better program.

The company, based in St. Louis, serves meals at 48 of the 79 Missouri school districts that contract out food service.

The Southern Boone County School District in Ashland also began using Opaa last fall. Superintendent Mitch Holbrook said the district is pleased with the company.

“We contracted Opaa to help reduce our costs,” he said. “We have seen some impact,” Holbrook said.

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