By Kathryn G. Menu
The Bridgehampton School has abandoned its longtime food service provider in favor of developing its own, in-house food service program in tandem with the construction of a new cafeteria in a former kindergarten classroom.
On Wednesday, March 20 the Bridgehampton School Board voted not to renew a food service contract with Whitson’s Culinary Group. Instead the school is opting to develop its own food service program to provide students with breakfast and lunch. The move coincides with the board’s decision to fund the renovation of the former kindergarten classroom into a new cafeteria and multi-purpose room.
“I am so happy to see something happen that we have all been talking about for a couple of years now,” said school board member Doug DeGroot at Wednesday’s meeting. “That it has moved in this direction is a wonderful thing.”
The Bridgehampton School community has prided itself on the development of its edible schoolyard, complete with a greenhouse that has been used to grow some of the produce sold in the school cafeteria. However, this week Business Administrator Bob Hauser and Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said the decision to switch to an in-house food service program was not just to provide healthier meals at Bridgehampton School, but also to save taxpayers money.
While the district still needs to go out to bid to develop its new food service program, Hauser said based on an internal analysis of a self-operating cafeteria he estimates the district will save anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 annually over what it costs to have Whitson’s Culinary Group provide the same service. For 2012-2013, Hauser said he projected operating the cafeteria through Whitson’s would have cost $175,000 before revenues were taken into account. He estimates a self-operating cafeteria will cost between $125,000 and $150,000 before revenues.
The district’s main savings derived from having its own food service operation, said Hauser, is the elimination of a management fee the district is required to pay Whitson’s. For the 2011-2012 school year, the management fee was approximately $50,000 in addition to the employee salaries, food and material costs the district also had to pay.
According to Hauser, the renovation of the cafeteria will cost about $187,000, which will be included in the proposed 2012-2013 budget. The district does need approval from the New York State Education Department as well as the Suffolk County Department of Health Services before it can move forward with construction, said Hauser.
The district has been wrestling with a 2012-2013 spending plan for the better part of two months. The last draft of the budget discussed at a workshop came in around $10.8 million, following a decision by the Bridgehampton Teachers Association and members of the administration to forgo salary and step increases for the 2012-2013 school year. A $10.8 million budget puts the district just below a state-mandated two-percent tax cap, and was also achieved by cutting most departments by 15-percent. The district will also not replace a retired staff position.
That budget will be presented to the school board on Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. District residents will vote on the budget May 15.
Residents will also vote on three school board positions that evening. DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson and Ronnie White are up for re-election. Other community members interested in running for school board can pick up a nominating petition at the district clerk’s office. Those petitions are due on April 16.