Cutbacks Cause City School Lunch WoesMike Klingaman's...

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August 07, 1993

Cutbacks Cause City School Lunch Woes

Mike Klingaman's report on health violations in city high school cafeterias (The Sun, July 19) leaves out an important piece of information -- one that puts cafeteria privatization in a very different light.

A hiring freeze, consciously instituted and maintained by city politicians and administrators, has left city school cafeterias severely understaffed.

Because cafeteria workers were transferred out of high schools to bolster elementary staff, skeleton crews in high schools could not serve a full menu.

The limited menu made increasing student participation impossible. Federal funding to the student lunch program was cut as a result of the fall in number of meals sold.

These decisions cost the city over a half a million dollars. They created unsanitary conditions in cafeterias where city children eat. They left students poorly nourished and unhappy.

The director of food services says this probably impacted student attendance. It likely affected classroom participation and achievement as well.

Blaming student dissatisfaction for the city's decision to sell off more of the public treasury to private contractors cannot cover ,, up these facts.

City officials complain that private companies "have the dollars, and we don't." Do they expect us to believe that private enterprise is going to subsidize our cafeterias? Those dollars come from our federal taxes and from the pockets of city students. The profit will be taken out of the city, not reinvested as it is now in the non-profit program.

Hidden costs to the city include opportunities for jobs that provide decent wages, benefits and protection for city residents. Profit margins in privatized school cafeterias often reflect the exact cost of employee benefit programs.

Public tax dollars for necessary services to the uninsured working poor become an additional hidden subsidy to the private companies.

I hope your readers were not left with the impression that city cafeteria employees and students were responsible for the failure of a public program.

This good public program was undermined and destroyed. Now it is being handed over to private interests in a position to make some healthy political contributions while they feed at the public trough.

Gail S. Riley

Baltimore

The writer is union president of the Maryland State Educational Services Council/NEA.

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As supervisors of the school food and nutrition services in Baltimore's metropolitan area counties, we read with dismay your July 19 story on unsanitary conditions at Baltimore City public school cafeterias. Our discomfort arose not just from the conditions described, but also from several misconceptions that the story encourages.

First, we must emphasize that the sanitation problems described in the story are absolutely limited to the Baltimore schools cited in your article.

School meals programs are independently run in each of Maryland's 24 subdivisions. But your readers -- our customers and their parents -- cannot be expected to assume that other school systems' food services aren't implicated in the violations you described, particularly when the negative article runs in all editions, without any attempt by the reporter to describe conditions in the five other local school food and nutrition services.

Allow us to be categorical: The supervisors, managers and employees of the Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Harford, and Baltimore County school food and nutrition services welcome front-page Maryland section coverage of our cafeterias.

We're quite proud of both our impeccable cleanliness standards and the educational service we provide every day to Central Maryland's school children.

Second, we must point out that the presence of unsanitary conditions in Baltimore City's cafeterias is not, by itself, cause to privatize the city's food service operation.

Privatization offers no panacea. The presence of five smoothly operating school food services in the surrounding counties attests to the strength and viability of locally run operations.

Indeed, we would strongly argue that, when properly managed, locally run school food and nutrition services offer educational and nutritional advantages that private companies cannot match.

Locally run school food services operate like businesses -- we must pay our own way and receive virtually no county funding -- but because we are not primarily motivated by maximizing profits, we can make our customers' well-being our foremost concern.

We're further disturbed that your reporter attempts no cogent answer to the question of why these poor conditions have been allowed to develop and persist in Baltimore City's school cafeterias.

Simply blaming "complacent and lazy" workers seems to us an abdication of responsibility, both by management, which surely must share the onus, and by your reporter, who surely must refuse to blithely accept this patently simplistic explanation.

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