On August 1, the Everett School Committee held a special meeting to discuss a major change in the Everett Public Schools (EPS), the end of a 26-year relationship with school cafeteria food and staff provider Aramark.
In attendance were School Committee members: Chair Thomas Abruzzese, Marcony Almeida-Barros, Millie Cardello, David Ela, Joseph LaMonica and Frank Parker, who also chairs the Subcommittee on Cafeterias.
For nearly three decades, EPS contracted with Aramark to provide cafeteria food and workers to the district. Now a new company, Whitsons Culinary Group, is taking over.
EPS first entered into a contract with Aramark 26 years ago. The contract had been extended several times. Having exhausted their rollover years, the district was required by law to put out a public bid for new contracts. Aramark and Whitsons both responded to these bids in June, with Whitsons coming out on top.
Aramark’s contract officially expired on August 1 after a series of 30-day extensions.
“The relationship with Aramark has been very strong,” said Parker to Independent. “But because of the laws, we had to go out and rebid the contract.”
School Committee members evaluated the companies’ bids based on a rubric of 10 criteria in the categories of meals, customer service and experience, and program management. Whitsons scored a 57 out of 70 possible points, while Aramark came in just under that at 55 out of 70.
Whitsons is a family-owned business founded in 1979 and based in Long Island, N.Y. With more than 3,000 employees, their mission is “enhancing life one meal at a time.”
Specific language written into the contract with Whitsons guarantees that the cafeteria workers who were previously employed by Aramark can continue in their positions if they so choose. The language preserves workers’ school locations, job titles, salaries and benefits.
Parker admitted that he understood how the change could be difficult for some people to stomach.
“It’s been a hectic year for the schools,” he said. “The last thing everyone wanted to change was the food service, because it wasn’t broken.”
But Parker wants the public to know that the Subcommittee on Cafeterias, which also includes School Committee members David Ela and Allen Panarese, will be fully involved in the transition from Aramark to Whitsons.
“Both [Ela and Panarese] have been in healthcare for over 40 years,” Parker said. “They understand the importance of good nutrition and they’re more than capable to aid in this transition.”
Whitsons is currently meeting with Aramark cafeteria workers and inviting them to meetings with its HR department and transition team.
“We’re going to make sure the employees are reached out to, feel secure and have stability in their jobs moving forward,” said Parker.
City Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who was in attendance at the meeting, expressed his disappointment with the end of the Aramark contract.
“It was sad seeing a company that has been in our community 20 years mistreated,” he told Independent. “I believe that this issue was much larger than the school lunch program.”
Aramark had the contract in place under the former Supt. Fred Foresteire, who resigned under a cloud of allegations of misconduct last year and has been criminally charged in Malden District Court (His next appearance is this Thursday, Aug. 8). Some have suggested that the Aramark contract was just another cog in the Foresteire machinery, which the City is now trying to distance itself from.
The councilor wanted assurance that Whitsons would “provide the same high-quality [meals] to the students as they received with Aramark.”