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District 86 considers new food vending options

HINSDALE – Hinsdale Central and South high schools could debut new lunch menus next fall, as the District 86 Board of Education is currently considering new bids from four food service providers.

At the District 86 Board of Education meeting May 19, Chief Financial Officer Bill Eagan said bids from four companies have been submitted, and he is in the process of analyzing each and narrowing the options to the top two.

The food service provider will be determined by a school board vote at an upcoming meeting, Eagan said.

Although the board didn't express dissatisfaction with the current food service provider, which has been with Quest Food Management Services, Inc. since June 2008, multiple Hinsdale South students have complained about current lunch options, according to school board member Claudia Manley.

"They didn't like the meal deal and the amount of food they got for that meal deal, so I guess what I'm interested in is the price [of food], the quantity and the quality, not necessarily low bidder," Manley said.

Along with current food provider Quest, Arbor Management Inc., Aramark and OrganicLife submitted bids. As a result, the district will also consider having a taste test with students when services are narrowed down to two bidders.

Hinsdale South High School Principal Brian Waterman said the student feedback he's received through surveys has been "generally positive."

"My first fall here [six years ago], a lot of the complaints were centered around cost," he said, [the food was] just too expensive," he said, referencing the Quest food and meal plans.

South has since conducted a study and determined that the cost increase is "negligible," according to Waterman, who also noted that hasn't heard complaints about quality.

District 86 Director of Human Resources Domenico Maniscalco said he worked with two of the vendors at his prior district, ultimately choosing the provider by conducting a tasting of an array of dishes.

"We just ate for a couple hours and you would be surprised how different the food was between vendors, so it was just a great showcase of what they provided," Maniscalco said.

If the district decides to do a taste test, school board member Jennifer Planson emphasized that student inclusion is "vital."

"I would encourage staff to come in, I think you need to have all that, and then in the middle of June meeting you have it finalized," she said. "This [provider] is the winner, this is who we're going with and be done with it."

Hinsdale Central High School Parent Teacher Organization president Nancy Pollak said members of the organization voted to accept the bid from Quest.

"Quest was not only the lowest bidder, but they are a proven partner in our school," she said.

Pollak added the PTO would also like to work with the district to provide a survey to families regarding food quality.

Eagan wants the decision for a provider to be made before June 30, leaving adequate time to prepare for next school year.

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