Commentary: Mingus ends up with egg on its face after school district food fight

Nothing put the brakes on the effort to unify the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union school districts faster than the food fight between the two districts.

It all started during a discussion between the two school boards on the reasons why unification talks had stalled. Further, the two boards tried to unravel the reasons why no progress had been made in shared services between the two districts.

All along, the talk had been that even if the two districts could not clear the political hurdles so inherent to unification, they at least could save taxpayer money through shared-service contracts. Among the areas targeted for such shared services were student transportation and school lunches.

On the issue of food service, Board Member James Ledbetter said Mingus dropped out of the contract with the elementary district because “The administration came to us and said Cottonwood-Oak Creek no longer will provide food service.”

C-OC officials said that claim was not true. In fact, the district was making moves to strengthen its food service program through a partnership with the Sodexho food service management company. Sodexho guaranteed, by contract, a return to the district of $304,000 the first year, with that increasing to $335,000 by the fifth year. The contract also calls for Sodexho to invest $80,000 into new kiosk service equipment and has built-in requirements for a high level of nutritious food.

Still, Mingus claimed the high school was better off providing its own food service than continuing its partnership with Cottonwood-Oak Creek. Business Manager Kirk Waddle described Cottonwood-Oak Creek’s service and menu as “sub-par.” MUHS Superintendent Tim Foist said he wanted to bring the food service in-house because, “We can make money, staff it ourselves and have a lot better product.”

Now that the new school year has started, there are a lot of folks in Cottonwood who claim it’s the Mingus food service program that is “sub-par.”

Reader comments to verdenews.com last week about the new Mingus food service program have been anything but flattering:

• “My daughter has not gotten to eat lunch in her new high school “Cafe” since school started! According to what I have been told, many kids haven’t. Staggering the times by five minutes isn’t working and the new “Cafe” is far from that, there is very limited seating and they spend most of there time either standing in line or going without lunch period … I am so disappointed ... this was not planned well and needs to be fixed now.”

• “The bottom line is, it’s a disaster ... We need longer lunches, or back to two lunches. Some kids are not eating because of this program.”

• “For all the talk about the need to improve the quality and save money in their food service contracts, it appears that poor planning prevailed. How many freshman and sophomores attend MUHS? 500-600? How many lunches are they able to serve effectively? From what I hear, the answer is 350. The solution from MUHS? The kids who can’t be served should plan to bring their lunches. Too bad for them if the lines are too long and the school can’t serve lunch. Too bad for them that the cafeteria doesn’t have enough seating for them all.”

Thursday night, Mingus officials acknowledged that their new lunch program has had a rough start, but the problems are being addressed. School Board members insisted on a full report on the problems and planned solutions at its next meeting.

Until then, Mingus should consider doing what was planned for in the first place. Ask Cottonwood-Oak Creek for some help.

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