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Boston school systems scraps food vendor bids

The Boston School Department tossed out all bids for a new food vendor contractor and is now seeking new proposals, city and school officials announced Wednesday.

“After a thorough review of all the proposals we have received so far, including student taste tests, we believe we can still do better,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. “We are directing vendors to go back to the drawing board and bring something new to the table, including more fresh salads, locally sourced options, and healthy choices that our students will look forward to every day.”

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The School Department received three bids: Whitsons Culinary Group of Islandia, N.Y.; Preferred Meals of Berkeley, Ill.; and Revolution Foods of Oakland, Calif. Whitsons has been the contractor for the past three school years, while Preferred Meals has done the summer food program for years and at one time held the school-year contract.

The announcement came a month after the School Department was slated to make a decision on awarding the three-year contract. The winner was supposed to start in July, serving up meals for the summer program.

But instead the School Department had to put a temporary plan in place. Whitsons will do the summer program this year, pushing out Preferred Meals entirely from the school system. Preferred Meals sued the school system two years ago when it lost the school-year contract, arguing the city wrongfully negotiated a lower price with Whitsons. The suit was later dropped.

The failure to secure a new food contractor is the latest setback for the food-service program. Last month, a review of the program, commissioned by the school system, found widespread dysfunction leading to millions of dollars in losses, a lack of inventory control, and accusations of a hostile work environment.

The program also experienced a backlash from parents and staff after shutting down its salad-bar program.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said in a statement Wednesday that the salad-bar program would resume this fall and that the review of the food services prompted him to take another look at the bids.

The School Department has been under pressure from the City Council to overhaul its meal programs. Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley, after a hearing last month, presented several recommendations, such as increasing healthy food options and including students and parents in planning menus.

“Councilor Pressley is pleased that the Boston Public Schools is taking into account some recommendations that came out of the hearing to strengthen the food-vendor contract,” said Jessica Taubner, her chief of staff. “We look forward to working with the Boston public schools, students, and parents to serve the healthiest meals possible.”

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.
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