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School District Ditches Food Service Provider

Many school board members voiced displeasure with the Vermont-based Abbey Group.

Following a recommendation from district business administrator Adam Steel, the Windham School Board voted unanimously on April 3 to discontinue The Abbey Group as the food service provider for the schools. 

The district will begin its own food service operation next fall, something that has never been done before in Windham. According to Steel, it's a move that is actually the most common thing in New Hampshire schools.

By severing ties with the Abbey Group, which is based out of Vermont, the hiring process for a food service director will begin almost immediately.

That employee will be eligibile for state retirment, and Steel said that the industry standard is also to have the director's medical insurance included.

A lot will stay the same with the turnover. The same software will be used including the online payment option that is currently in existence.

Steel also noted that the food preparation process will remain the same.

"Right now all the food is prepared at Windham High School and is brought to the other schools," he said. "That model will continue."

Breakfast and after school food will also still be offered.

The district will look for the individuals who did a good job this year and try to hire them on for next year.

Chairman Bruce Anderson said he was livid with the Abbey Group, who he said promised a minimum profit of $25,000 to the district last year that never came.

"It's sad that this group wasn't able to deliver a better quality product that kids wanted to buy," he said.

Before the Abbey Group, participation in the food service program at Golden Brook School was 60 percent. That number dropped to 41 percent.

Steel said that he was confident that the district will not be put in the hole by developing its own operation.

He added that prices for lunches will increase again this year, which has to happen if the town wants to continue to participate in the federal lunch program.

when the lunch prices increased back in August explained the reason.

The Federal government passed a law, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, that requires all school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program to gradually increase hot lunch prices over time. The goal of this Federal legislation is to equalize the price of a hot lunch with the amount of money the Federal government reimburses Districts for students who receive a free lunch.

Steel said that the district will try to be cognicent of what student's want.

"It's about marketing and collaboration and being customer focused," he said.

Helen Z. Munroe April 06, 2012 at 01:44 PM
As a mother of three children who do purchase school lunch a few times each week, I have to agree with the first comment above, that the decrease may be associated to other factors, not necessarily the quality of the food. I believe that the current food service director has been committed to continuously improving the menus and food choices offered. As with everything, barring allergies, personal taste is subjective. Feedback from my children has been that the menus have been increasingly diverse, also incorporating a large variety of whole grains . My only concern with the Abbey Group has been that the children have been allowed to use their lunch cards as a debit card without limits, which became quite expensive. After many unreturned voicemails to the school's Abbey group voicemail box, I called Vermont directly to place a weekly limit meal card purchases.
Publius April 06, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Why does the School Board want the lunch program to be a profit center (and then be "livid" when it isn't one)? Break-even would seem to be the right approach. What's next, a toll booth on the driveway to WHS? Selling ad space on soccer uniforms? Fare boxes on the school buses? Actually, that last one might make sense to help cover transportation costs.
Amy M. Spencer April 06, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I agree with comments one & two. I would also like to add that i thought that The Abbey Group did a great job incorporating local farms & products into our menu. My biggest concern is that if we are so concerned with profit, will Windham allow the use of "pink slime" in the new program?
Helen Z. Munroe April 06, 2012 at 08:27 PM
There was an article on 032912, that there is already a 50-50 chance of the presence of pink slime in our current school ground beef products. You can find it under School Awareness, here on the patch. Search pink slime...
Concerned Resident April 13, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Town Residents and Tax Payers of Windham deserve the truth. The owners of The Abbey Group state that they were never informed about the food service contract not being renewed for the upcoming school year. They claim back in February of 2012, the School Board informed them that the contract was awaiting one signature and other than that it should be all set. The owners of The Abbey Group received the news of the contract being terminated at the end of the current school year only by Windham Abbey Group employees, who only learned the news, themselves, by the Director's job being posted throughout the schools and by school staff. The School Board claims that they tried to contact The Abbey Group several times, but received no responses. The Windham Business Administrator claims that The Abbey Group caused the town a $75,000 deficit. It is also claimed that The Abbey Group never paid the town any profit made from the school lunch program. The Abbey Group claims that they issued a check for the amount of $25,000 in August 2011 that was, in fact, cashed by the town. The Abbey Group also claims there will be "an even more substantial bottom line" this year. We, as taxpayers and residents, have a right to know what actual expenses make up the $75,000 deficit. Did The Abbey Group actually pay any money to the town/school district? Also, what was the Management Fee amount paid to The Abbey Group each contract year and what did that management fee cover?

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