Our View: District should stick to mission
January 14, 2012
The Steamboat Springs School District ought to focus its energies on providing the best possible education for our children, not on competing with private enterprise for a food service contract at Colorado Mountain College.
Fortunately, the School Board has the chance to stop this potential boondoggle. A vote on whether to bid on the CMC Alpine Campus food services job is scheduled for the board's Jan. 23 meeting. The vote should be a resounding "no."
School Board members were split on the issue when it arose at their meeting last week. They ultimately had to postpone a final decision for two weeks because the food services contract was not included as an action item on the board's meeting agenda.
The proposal is the work of Max Huppert, the school district's ambitious director of nutritional services. His 10-person team currently puts out between 800 and 1,000 meals per day to the district's K-12 students. According to the proposal submitted to Alpine Campus officials, Huppert's staff would increase by 15 employees to help meet the demands of providing breakfast, lunch and dinner at CMC seven days each week, as well as operate its restaurant/cafe. The school district also would move most of its cooking operations to the Alpine Campus' yet-to-be-completed 60,000-square-foot academic facility with an expansive commercial kitchen.
The contract would be for five years, and Huppert said he could generate $140,000 in new revenue in the first year alone despite charging CMC students less per meal than they're currently paying. The cost of school district lunches would remain the same. According to the proposal, that new revenue would be split between the school district and the college.
Huppert, Superintendent Brad Meeks and at least two School Board members are excited by the potential of the contract. At last week's board meeting, Meeks said the proposal could provide some school district students access to CMC's new culinary arts program. He also suggested the potential partnership with the college could lead to additional future opportunities.
We agree with Meeks that expanded educational opportunities such as access to a culinary arts program is important for school district students, but we don't think such collaboration is predicated on whether our public school district wins the food services contract for the college. Indeed, the district and CMC already have a strong relationship.
More importantly, we're troubled by the very nature of a taxpayer-funded entity competing for a service currently provided by the private sector. We're skeptical of Huppert's revenue projections and about adding 15 district employees to provide food services for an outside entity. Is our school district really prepared to accept the operational risks inherent in this five-year proposal?
Our school district's mission is to provide a first-class education for its students. With such small potential upside and plenty of sizable risks, there's no reason for our School Board to support a plan to provide food services to Colorado Mountain College.