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School district to retain current food service? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
School district to retain current food service?
Two vendors object to administration's recommendation to remain with Aramark

by Lyle R. Rolfe


Representatives from two firms that submitted the two lowest bids to provide meals in Oswego School District cafeterias told school district board members Monday night they were not pleased with the administration's recommendation on the bid award.

The board is expected to vote to award a contract for the service during their next meeting on Monday, April 28.

Associate Superintendent Dr. Paul O'Malley has recommended the district accept the bid from Aramark, headquartered in Philadelphia.

Aramark has been the school district's food service provider for the past several years and submitted the third lowest of the five bids received by the district.

The issue was continued to the April 28 board meeting when a vote is expected to take place.

Representatives from the two firms that submitted lower bids told board members they were unhappy with O'Malley's recommendation and asked why it was chosen.

The representatives maintained their firms had met all requirements and were providing meals for numerous other school districts.

Aramark's bid was $4,861,908, which was $253,437 higher than Organic Life of Chicago, who was lowest with $4,808,671. Aramark's bid was $60,575 higher than Chartwells, which was second lowest with $$4,801,333. Chartwells has its headquarters in Chertsey, England.

Joe Kreeger of Chicago, general counsel and vice president of Organic Life said his firm has grown to be one of the top 50 food management companies in the country.

"In addition to the high quality of school lunches we provide, our bid was more than $250,000 lower than the bid recommended by your administration-Aramark. Over the anticipated five-year life of the contract, Aramark's bid will cost the district more than $1.2 million," he said.

Kreeger said his firm is privately owned and does not release internal audited financial statements to public entities, as requested in the district's bid specifications. He said they provide performance bonds and there has never been a problem or concern from the hundreds of Illinois schools they have served.

He added that they serve more than three million meals each month throughout Illinois and have the facilities to serve the school district without problem.

Kreeger said his firm can provide a higher quality meal at a significant savings to the district.

Gene Sanchez, Oswego resident, and regional vice president of Cartwells, the other firm whose bid was lower than Aramark, said he is an Oswego resident and has three children attending district schools.

He mentioned that he began attending board meetings last year in preparation to submit a bid on behalf of his firm to provide food service.

He read a letter he said was sent by Chartwells' general counsel to Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt and Board President Bill Walsh after they learned their bid was disqualified.

The letter charged the school district "improperly disqualified their bid based on the flawed conclusion that Chartwells is not a responsible bidder. The facts upon which this conclusion is based do not support the disqualification," the letter said.

Sanchez said one of the district's requirement is that the firm selected not have had any contracts terminated in Illinois during the past three years. Chartwells has complied with this requirement, he said, but the district erroneously treated two contracts that expired at the end of their terms as if they had been terminated.

Those two contracts were with Indian Prairie and the Chicago Public Schools, both of which decided to obtain new bids. Contracts with his firm were approved by both of these districts at a later date, he said.

Sanchez asked that the district not award any contract until his firm is reinstated as a valid bidder.

"I believe if the same criteria were applied to all other vendors, that no vendor would pass qualifications," Sanchez said. "I've been in this board room for several board meetings and consistently hear Mr. (Board Member Greg) O'Neil refer, and again tonight, to our taxes being among the highest in the country," he said.

He noted that as of that day, they were third highest in the U.S. based on percentage of home value. He said Aramark had lowered its bid by $600,000 this year.

"That's great. That also means that over the past five years they overcharged us $3 million," he said.

The board should consider this when they decide who to partner with, he said Sanchez said his firm believes it submitted the lowest bid.

Maureen Lemon, school district attorney, asked Sanchez and Kreeger if their firms were planning to file suit against the district.

Both said they could not answer the question at that time.

O'Malley said three school district employees analyzed the bids before a decision was made. He also noted that the Illinois State Board of Education was involved in the process. He said they were required to send their bid package to the state which made 22 changes in the criteria outlined by the district.

He said there are responsibilities for each bidder including financial statements, references, nutrition and wellness, proposed facilities, and the daily operation. This rubric is what they use in addition to the financial information to make a decision, he said.

O'Neil asked how the other companies could do business in the state if they do not provide the financial information. O'Malley said he could speak only for the school district.

O'Neil then asked what the reasons were for disqualifying the two low bidders.

O'Malley said they were not disqualified. He said they were looking for the lowest responsible bidder that met the district's criteria, adding that this does not mean the others were disqualified.

He said they looked at references and the criteria used by whoever provided the references to be sure the criteria was met.

Financial statements were one of the district's requirements and they were approved by the state, so they must be provided, he said.

O'Neil asked if the items O'Malley requested would make the food service they provide any better noting that Aramark is the third lowest bidder.

O'Malley said all three of these bidders would save the district a minimum of $400,000.

O'Neil said he had submitted hundreds of bids in his contracting business over more than 30 years and only once did he see a bid disqualified. And two did not qualify here, he added.

O'Malley said that with construction he would have an architect to work with, but in this instance he had the state board.

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