Conway School Board - Jess Whitelaw and Joe Mosca

Conway School Board member Jess Whitelaw (left), who serves on the food service committee, is seen with colleague Joe Mosca at the Aug. 12 board meeting. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)

CONWAY — More breakfasts and lunches were served in the Conway School District last year in the first year under a privatized contract with Cafe Services' Fresh Picks, prompting the Conway School Board to ink another one-year agreement with the Manchester-based company for the 2019-20 school year. That was the good news, the bad is the district accumulated $10,000 in debt from unpaid breakfast and lunch bills by students and families (see related story).

Board member Jess Whitelaw, who serves on the food service committee, shared with her colleagues at the Aug. 12 board meeting, that Fresh Picks served approximately 12,000 more breakfasts and 25,000 more lunches than the previous year at the five schools (Kennett High, Kennett Middle, Conway Elementary, John H. Fuller and Pine Tree Elementary) combined.

There were 1,715 students in the Conway School District in grades K-12 for the 2018-19 school year. It works out to an average of 20.4 additional meals per student over the 180-day school year.

Whitelaw said the committee met last month to “review some of the success and challenges we faced over the past year.”

“Our goal for next year is to try to continue to increase participation and decrease debt and the uncollected debt,” she said. “Staffing is another thing we’re struggling with.”

She added: “(Fresh Picks) is definitely fitting in well. They have some good ideas and goals for the future.”

The district outsourced its food service to Fresh Picks in July of 2018. The company offered the 12 former school district employees jobs, with more than half of them accepting.

In the meeting minutes from the July 23 food service committee meeting, staffing was listed under “challenges” and included “culture change, communication, stressful relationships.”

“Fresh Picks is still struggling with staffing, so if anyone needs a job,” Whitelaw said.

Board member Randy Davison said a number of former employees expressed concern over the transition from school district employees to Fresh Picks staff.

“One good thing with our neighborhood yard sales is that I hear a lot from the community,” he said. “It has been brought to my attention, you mention staffing, it will be interesting to see at the beginning of the year how many of the original staff in that department is still here. I was pretty sad to hear that Cheryl Chase, who has been in this district for 33 years will probably not be coming back due to a personnel concern.

“I heard from other people in that department who we originally hired that they are not going to be here anymore. I’m concerned about the foodservice and the fact that they pulled out of Gorham.”

Board chairman Joe Lentini cautioned Davison about “getting into personnel issues.”

“This is not personnel issues,” Davison replied. “This is just community members that I heard from. I have a concern as a board member that people who served this district and are not our personnel anymore, they belong to that food service. I’m really concerned about people from this community that is no longer going to be servicing this district. One of the goals of this board was to make sure these people would be treated well. I guess I’m really concerned about that. They’re going to be moving on and probably won’t be heard from. It will be interesting to see how many of our original staff return (this fall). I heard it was only two.”

On April 22, the board voted 6-0 (Michelle Capozzoli unable to attend) to approve a one-year contract with Fresh Picks for the 2019-20 school year.

Superintendent Kevin Richard said prior to hiring Fresh Picks the district was running a deficit of $200,000 and this contract will save the district over $100,000.

Christopher Faro, director of operations, said Cafe Services is the parent company of Fresh Picks Cafe, a privately-owned regional food source company that has been in business since 1993. It was started by Brian Stone and Bill Van Zandt, whose first account was the Mascoma School District in Canaan, which is still a client today.

The Conway School District — with its five schools, Kennett High, Kennett Middle, John H. Fuller, Pine Tree and Conway Elementary — had operated at a loss of $200,000 for each of the two years prior to contracting with Fresh Picks and was projected to again lose that amount in the 2018-19 school year. By going to Fresh Picks, the district was been told it would run a deficit of not more than $89,938, which it did.

“For the first year,” Richard said by phone Tuesday, “I think it went realty well. Our goals were to serve more meals and lose less money, and we accomplished both.”

Food choices for the upcoming school year will include pizza made every day on site; made-to-order deli items at middle and high school, which Faro equated to Subway — kids choose bread, meats and toppings; the Express station — usually hot sandwiches that students can grab and go; and Market fresh — everything from freshly made salads to box lunches to cold grab and go items.

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