Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

November 9, 2010

MPS Board Gets it Right on Privatization by Peter Blewett

Filed under: Privatization — millerlf @ 12:56 am

Alan Borsuk once again displays his inept and misleading reporting.

MPS Board gets it right on food

By Peter T. Blewett Nov. 6, 2010 Milwaukee Journal

The Milwaukee School Board wants to move forward with a food service plan that will save taxpayers nearly $3 million annually and provide healthier food for Milwaukee’s children.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Nov. 2 editorial urging the board to consider outsourcing food services gets the facts wrong. Contrary to the editorial’s assertions, based on Alan Borsuk’s Oct. 31 article, the board has not refused to consider all options.

In June 2010, after careful investigation and deliberation, and before Superintendent Gregory Thornton had taken the reins at MPS, the board decided to proceed with a cost-effective, state-of-the-art food service plan. And we will do so operating at a surplus. Not a single dollar will be taken from the classroom to provide food services. The dollars from the national school lunch and breakfast program can only be used for school nutrition services, not for teachers or classrooms.

Borsuk’s quip, “The more spent on food service, the less spent on, oh, say, teachers,” and the editorial comment, “Any money saved is money that can be used in the classroom,” display either ignorance of federal policy or a willingness to mislead the public. The paper’s failure to clarify the funding undermines the taxpaying public’s support for MPS.

And the board manages its dollars carefully. By researching best practices, investigating funding streams, building local and regional partnerships, MPS food services has moved from a deficit with a debt load of $7.5 million to a surplus of $3.5 million. Thanks to smart management, MPS food services will soon retire its debt.

The board’s decision to proceed with a commissary model was made only after years of extensive research of food service delivery models at urban school districts across the United States. This decision is in line with recommendations from a report by McKinsey and Company studying the finances of MPS (commissioned by the governor and mayor in 2009).

Borsuk cites the McKinsey Report, saying that the board could save from $8 million to $13 million a year by decreasing the costs of serving meals. Borsuk neglects to mention that the savings have already begun. The commissary, projected to save the district an additional $2.8 million annually, will be paid for by the savings.

Borsuk also leaves out the McKinsey Report’s praise for MPS Nutrition Services Department, which called it an “innovator within MPS’ business operations.” Indeed, the report singles out the major food contract that MPS outsources as leading to “food price increases significantly higher than previous years as well as higher than the national average.”

The consultants were at a loss to explain the increases, noting that “the finding is contrary” to the idea that outsourcing will “result in lower . . . pricing over time.”

Borsuk also omits the McKinsey Report’s warning that outsourcing food service operations requires “trade-offs (that) include menu control and . . . food quality.” The board must not waiver from its commitment to provide good healthy meals for Milwaukee’s children.

Another “trade-off” would be to sacrifice partnerships with groups such as the Hunger Task Force, Growing Power, Urban Foods for Urban Schools and the Milwaukee Center for Independence that have helped increase participation in meal programs, support local businesses and bring locally produced, healthy food to our students.

In 2008, the MPS-MCFI partnership won the Public Policy Forum’s Public-Private Good Government Award.

By the way, the board has no problem providing good, if low-wage, jobs to the parents of our students without costing local taxpayers a dime.

The Journal Sentinel’s mischaracterization of our food service program as a “jobs program” contradicts its frequent editorials on the need to reduce unemployment and the city’s unconscionably high poverty rate.

Instead of attacking the board, the Journal Sentinel should praise MPS’ School Nutrition Services for establishing standards for innovation, accountability and education that other districts should match.

We have to remember that every experience a child has in school is educational. What and how we feed our students teaches them important lessons about health, nutrition and portion control, as well as lessons about how a wise society treats workers and the environment. Now that’s food for thought.

Peter T. Blewett is a Milwaukee Public Schools board member.


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