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Food Group Defends Its Fruit Loops

Last month, Richmond Public Schools and Chartwells School Dining Services decided to part ways after having signed a yearly renewable contract in August. Just after a Chartwells attorney informed the board it would not seek contract renewal, the board voted anyway, unanimously deciding not to renew the contract.

Now school board members are looking for signs of mishap, hoping to ferret out anyone or anything that may have played a role in the matter. Meanwhile, Chartwells is defending itself.

It could come down to fruit loops.

When perusing an audit of Chartwells' purchases, School Board Chairman and 5th-District representative Stephen B. Johnson noticed a red flag. When it ran its own food-service operations in previous years, the school system paid about $19 a case for Kellogg's Froot Loops, Johnson says. Under Chartwells, it cost about $23 a case for generic "fruity O's," Johnson says. "I had a concern with that," he adds.

Johnson says he reviewed the first 45 or so items in the audit and found that most of Chartwells' costs were higher than what the school system had paid. Additionally, he says, Chartwells recommended that the schools purchase equipment such as ice machines for every school — a move he calls unnecessary — and repair some equipment he questions needed fixing.

Wolf wants to know who signed for the payments in the first place. She plans to press the school board to look into the matter, and to what extent Chartwells can be held accountable.

Nancy C. Quinn, vice president of support services with Chartwell School Dining Services, stresses Chartwells' slogan: "Eat. Learn. Live."

The word "save" isn't in its motto. "We are proud of the achievements and improvements we have been able to make in the quality of food and service in the past seven months," Quinn says of its relationship with Richmond schools. She points to a 30 percent increase in high-school lunch participation and a 16 percent increase in the breakfast program districtwide. Additionally, she says, taste tests or surveys were conducted at schools and they produced favorable responses.

Cheryl Queen, a spokeswoman for Chartwells' parent company, Compass Group North America, says Chartwells has been treated unfairly in Richmond news media.

Quinn says Chartwells is cooperating with Richmond schools in the audit, and is conducting its own audit to identify any discrepancies. "We look forward to resolving this matter to everyone's satisfaction," she says.

That may be a matter of taste. Chairman Johnson says the school board is assessing its options before conducting a search for a new food-service provider. — Brandon Walters

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