Southold schools ponder hiring food service manager

By September, Southold students could be eating what Board of Education members think would be tastier and healthier lunches.

That’s if the district decides to hire its own food service manager and team rather than contract with an outside vendor.

The district now uses Aramark, a Philadelphia-based food service company. But two board members recently visited nearby schools that have hired their own food service personnel, and they returned impressed with their findings. Scott DeSimone and Judi Fouchet toured school cafeterias in Westhampton Beach and Rockville Centre, and Superintendent David Gamberg accompanied them on the Westhampton Beach trip.

Both board members recommended at a May 4 work session that their colleagues consider making a similar change. The menus might be a bit more expensive, Mr. DeSimone said, but the food served would be economical, nourishing and pleasing to the palate.

While Aramark operates the district’s cafeteria at a profit, a self-operated system wouldn’t have to do so, Ms. Fouchet said.

Students currently pay $1.80 for hot lunch at Southold Elementary School and $1.90 at the secondary school. It could cost about $3 a day for a good deli sandwich, as the West Hampton Beach and Rockville Centre schools offer, Mr. DeSimone said. But that’s a price he would gladly pay to ensure his own children get fresh Boar’s Head cold cut sandwiches, he said. In addtion to deli offerings, under the proposed new program would also include a hot lunch option each day and various à la carte items.

Mr. DeSimone said the district would determine the cost per lunch once it has a firm idea of expenses involved in running the program.

Still, before the district makes a decision on converting to the self-operated system, there would have to be an investment in equipment and supplies, according to Sharon DiCandia, who was a kitchen supervisor for Aramark at the school before taking time out for a disability dating back to last October.

Ms. DiCandia said she favors the self-operated system but pointed out that the high school cafeteria, especially, would need to be reconfigured to make it work. She suggested that a deli counter be set up in the area known as the commons, just outside the cafeteria, and that hot food could continue to be served in the main cafeteria.

The board also has questions about how the arrangement would work for low-income students who receive free or reduced-price lunches.

While Southold currently feeds about 1,000 students per day, Mr. DeSimone speculated that more students would opt for cafeteria food if it were better than what they’re now served.

“If you’re offering a better product, you’re going to sell at least as much as you do now,” he said.

Mr. Gamberg said he wants to involve students and members of the district’s wellness committee in assessing the idea and, if implemented, monitoring the program.

His objective, he told the board, is to “get it off the ground and get it off the ground well.”

A food service director would have to be hired and start by July 1 to ready the operation for September, Mr. DeSimone said. The board is expected to make a decision at its May 25 meeting about whether to move forward with the idea for September.

“It’s not the path of no return,” said board member Dr. John Crean said. The district could try it for a year and assess whether to keep the self-operated system or return to using a food service company, he said.

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