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District 308 Food Service Contract Approval Called 'Shameful'

May 13, 2014 11:58AM ● By Steven Jack

Photo courtesy of Aramark- School District #308's Foodservice Provider Facebook page

The Oswego School District 308 School Board's unanimous decision Monday night to award next year’s $4.5 million food service contract to Aramark was met with more disapproval from one of the competing companies.

Aramark was awarded the contract despite not being the lowest bidder by more than $60,000.

Aramark, which has been serving school lunches in District 308 for several years, was deemed by officials to be the lowest "responsible" bidder. Several companies went through the extensive bid process mandated by the state to try and win District 308's business.

Gene Sanchez is a District 308 parent and the regional vice president for competing school food service provider Chartwells. He appeared before the board again Monday night to voice his concern over the board awarding the contract to a more expensive bidder.

“This week (School Board member Greg) O’Neil went to state legislature to help lead changes for more dollars to be spent in communities like ours, and that’s laudable and very, very important,” Sanchez said. “In the same week, this administration is asking this board to accept the higher cost alternative for this food service contract, and that is shameful.”

Sanchez has said in the past he believed administrators were using "flawed" information in disqualifying his company based on previous contracts in other districts. 

Chartwells was previously the food service provider in both Indian Prairie School District 204 and Chicago Public Schools. The company was not re-awarded those contracts in recent years.

Sanchez also chastised administrators for not returning recent communications from his company to discuss the issue further.

Superintendent Matthew Wendt confirmed he received communication from multiple vendors, but declined to engage in discussions with them to protect the integrity of the process. Wendt also said he was insulted by any implied notion that the food service bid process was rigged to ensure Aramark’s return. 

“It’s been an emotional issue, and unfortunately money will do that,” he said. “… Any hint that any part of this process was in any way shape or form written or approved that would in someway favor a vendor is an insult to the superintendent, and that’s how I see it.”

Wendt again stated that the process received a high level of scrutiny from the Illinois State Board of Education that would ensure its integrity.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Before the final 7-0 vote, board member Brent Lightfoot questioned district attorney Maureen Lemon about whether she was comfortable with the legality of the process and the final contract.

“Absolutely,” she answered.

O’Neil said she was not pleased with the contract bid process.

“I just hope that when this next contract comes up that we’ve learned from these issues,” he said. “It seemed like there was a lot of confusion. I hope we can streamline this process going forward so our bidders are clear on what to provide.”