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Yet Another Example of Why We Shouldn’t Privatize Basic Services

[ 219 ] April 5, 2013 |

Like many school districts, Attleboro, Massachusetts privatized its school meals, hiring the Whitsons Culinary Group. Then this happened:

Students at an Attleboro, Massachusetts, middle school went hungry this week, if they had a negative balance on their pre-paid lunch cards.

Five cents of debt was enough for cafeteria employees at the Coehlo Middle School to instruct kids at least one day this week to dump out the food they would have normally eaten, CNN affiliate WJAR in Rhode Island reported.

About 25 children left the lunchroom with empty stomachs, said Whitson’s Culinary Group in a statement. The company runs the school’s cafeteria.

The company is blaming the individual employees. We can believe that if we want; I am skeptical. Of course, we have to teach our poor kids the important lessons before the reach the age of 14: pay up to your corporate overlords or starve.

Comments (219)

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  1. cpinva says:

    oh, it was an individual employee, following the rules set down by the company. i know many colleges and universities contract their food services out, but this is the first i’d heard of it being done at the primary/secondary level. i shouldn’t be surprised.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      Five will get you ten that the “individual employee” was someone working for minimum wage or close to it who would have lost their job if they’d bent the rules (and, of course, may lose their job because they didn’t, because they’re an easily-replaceable cog).

    • wengler says:

      They are usually the same company and food that is served at prisons.

      Maybe I’m just young enough, but I can’t remember a time where the cafeteria food wasn’t a private, outside contractor.

  2. SpotWeld says:

    Perhaps this is the fault of individual employees. But there is a deeper issue here. There was no provision in place to act as a cover for a situation like this. Kids could go hungry, but they program couldn’t lose money.

    When it became prvitized the main goal of the organization became profit. So the new rule 1, never lose money on a transaction. I have to assume that under the school/gov’t plan the main goal was to make sure no kid went hungry even if that meant that the books were a loss at the end of the day.

    This is why so often governement is “inefficient”. It has to put it’s actual goal of service above profit/loss.

    • Malaclypse says:

      I have to assume that under the school/gov’t plan the main goal was to make sure no kid went hungry even if that meant that the books were a loss at the end of the day.

      This is true – see comment below.

    • actor212 says:

      Perhaps this is the fault of individual employees.

      So the question is, why would they behave this way?

      I answer that below. It’s still the company’s fault.

      • SpotWeld says:

        Easy to imagine the scenario.
        When setting up the program the school requires that “all students must be fed”
        The company takes this squishy requirement and codifies it into “a portion of the budget will be set aside for lunches that will be a finanacial loss to cover students who are in arrears” In short, extra cheap meals that are “paid” for by increasing the cost of the other lunches.

        Of course there must be profit, so the montly number of loss meals is fixed. Of course the number of sudents that don’t cover the cost of thier meals probably changes wildly over the school year for any number of reasons.

        If for some reason paychecks are delayed at the local large scale employers, everyone’s basement gets flooded due to exceptional weather conditions or ….

        So, it’s midway though a given month, all the loss meals have been sold and the mid level manager is saying “no more loss meals, make them pay for the full price meals” The “or else” is left unsaid..

        And there you go, it’s the individual employees fault for selling too many loss meals so they’re not available later in the month.

    • DrDick says:

      A vital lesson to these youngsters on the essential nature of capitalism and its consequences. I see a a mighty socialist recruiting tool here.

  3. bexley says:

    The company is blaming the individual employees.

    Does Paul Ryan, zombie-eyed kiddie starver, work there?

  4. Shakezula says:

    WHAAAT? You want MORE??

    Snark aside, I know how humiliated those children felt. I hope the employees were fired and some grown up sits the kids down and explains the people who made them throw away their food were total assholes and WRONG.

  5. Malaclypse says:

    So, in my naive youth, I did accounting for a company that ran charter schools. Here are some facts, subject to the fact that my memory of 13 years ago is hazy, and facts may have changed:

    1) Thanks to the glories of Fund Accounting, school lunch programs have their own P&L.

    2) Meals are “sold” at a fixed markup. I do not recall the percentage. The markup is the same whether the kid pays cash, the state picks up the whole tab, or anything in between.

    3) Because you must always prepare enough meals that you can’t run out, you always have unsold meals.

    4) Between points 2 and 3, all lunch programs run at a loss, which is made up out of the General Funds of the school.

    5) For a private company to make a profit, you need to either a) mark up meals way more, or b) make less meals, meaning that kids who arrive late sometimes get no food. There is no option c.

    6) Point 5 is why school lunches should never ever ever be privatized. Even in theory, privatization does not work in this case. It cannot work.

    7) Since the lunches were made, the food that the kids could not afford almost certainly got thrown away, all to preserve the “integrity” of the price system.

    • Malaclypse says:

      I meant laws may have changed, not facts.

    • rea says:

      Since the lunches were made, the food that the kids could not afford almost certainly got thrown away

      And indeed, look at the quote from the linked article:

      Five cents of debt was enough for cafeteria employees at the Coehlo Middle School to instruct kids at least one day this week to dump out the food they would have normally eaten

      • Malaclypse says:

        Yea, I went accounting geek before reading. Making the kids toss the food themselves really takes the cruelty up past 12.

        • rea says:

          Also, if you read the article, the way (according to the company)it’s supposed to work is that the kids in arrears get a special lunch–cheese sandwich, piece of fruit and milk. Not sure I approve of “special lunch for the poor kids, different from what the kids with money get.”

          • Shakezula says:

            No, that too is bullshit. There’s enough to single poorer kids out without giving them a special POOR LUNCH (not to mention a lactose intolerant kid could not eat that lunch).

            And as the article notes, the regular lunch was already there, on their damn trays.

          • sharculese says:

            Is it served in a brown paper bag with DEBTOR scrawled across it?

    • Dave says:

      The Cheese Sandwiches of Wrath….

    • NonyNony says:

      Point 5 is why school lunches should never ever ever be privatized. Even in theory, privatization does not work in this case. It cannot work

      Pfft. You an your “theories” and your “science”. What kind of commie socialist are you anyway?

      Privatization always works. That is the First Commandment of the Invisible Hand. If privatization isn’t work working for you, that’s because you need to pray harder to the Invisible Hand.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      5) For a private company to make a profit, you need to either a) mark up meals way more, or b) make less meals, meaning that kids who arrive late sometimes get no food. There is no option c.

      Why can’t the school district pay the contractor at a set rate, instead of expecting them to make their money off of sales?

      • Malaclypse says:

        I imagine that is exactly how privatizing works. So they need to make money by either 1) raising markup/meal, or 2) making damn sure there are fewer unsold meals.

        • cpinva says:

          i think (correct me if i’m wrong) what joe is thinking of is a “cost plus” type of contract, such as is popular with DoD. say, cost plus 10%, which is a pretty decent gross profit margin. that would eliminate the problem of kids possibly going hungry, and having a “special” meal for the poor ones.

  6. Funkula says:

    As far as making more food than necessary, that reminds me of the (public) cafeteria when I was in school. Every Friday was vegetable beef stew, and I’m pretty sure the process was to refrigerate whatever vegetables didn’t get served (corn, peas, carrots) over the course of the week and then dump em in with some ground beef. I thought it was gross (because I was a kid), but it’s certainly a smarter way to economize than this.

    But that’s all secondary to the main point I wanted to make, which is Fuck These Guys. In particular, the idea that the kids who couldn’t pay were ordered to throw away the food rather than eat it makes me spitting mad. Denying it to them in the first place? Awful. Throwing it away to keep them from “getting something for nothing”? Goddamn unforgivable.

    • Shakezula says:

      Images of tons of food being destroyed to keep the poors from getting it.

      And, sorry. I keep thinking of this. I still get pretty damn hungry, but when you’re a kid on a fixed food schedule you are fucking ravenous come meal time. So these kids would have been salivating over their lunch when some shit for brains said dump it.

      • SatanicPanic says:

        For some of the kids this might be the only decent meal they get all day. The privatizers are pro-starvation of childen.

        • David M. Nieporent says:

          If the kids were starving other than their school lunch, then either (a) their parents should be arrested for child abuse for refusing to give food to their kids, or (b) the kids didn’t have any debt because taxpayers pick up the tab for school lunches for poor families. Look up the National School Lunch Program.

          • Shakezula says:

            a) Criminalize poverty, b) Not sure what the fuck.

            Proof that it is 5 o’clock somewhere.

          • sharculese says:

            I’m sure putting their parents in jail will make their lives better.

            Christ, you are dumber than a dog’s dickhole sometimes.

              • sharculese says:

                I was about to say that he made it through law school so he at least has some smarts, but then I remembered that I’ve been to law school.

                • David M. Nieporent says:

                  I don’t believe you. Or, at least, not that you were capable of graduating.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Wow, sneering unwarranted condescension is so utterly unlike your normal calm rational discourse.

                • DrDick says:

                  Where did you say you got your law degree, David? ORU, Regents, or a matchbook cover somewhere?

            • Paul Ryan's Tiny Testicles says:

              There are perfectly valid reasons we want lots of children running around without parental supervision.

              Those privately owned juvenile detention centers won’t stock themselves you know!

            • David M. Nieporent says:

              If their parents have money for food but are deliberately refusing to feed them, then their parents are guilty of child abuse, and, yes, it would be better for them if their parents weren’t around.

          • DrDick says:

            You really have no idea how the real world works, do you?

          • Malaclypse says:

            taxpayers pick up the tab for school lunches for poor families. Look up the National School Lunch Program.

            Good news, davey! I did! And if a household – total household – of four makes more than 29,965/year, they don’t get free lunch. If that household makes more than 42,642, they don’t get reduced price.

            How fuck off and wank some more to Heinlein. I believe Job had the racy scenes.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Now fuck off, I mean. How I wish not to think about.

            • sharculese says:

              That’s probably enough for a no-frills cellphone plan, so not really poor.

            • David M. Nieporent says:

              Yes, exactly the point. And if they make at least $30,000 per year, they’re not too poor to afford to feed their kids.

              • Malaclypse says:

                You really are blissfully unaware, in the way normally found in 14-year-old Heinlein fans, rather than functional adults.

                • David M. Nieporent says:

                  I really am aware, which is presumably why I have a job and feed my kids, rather than expecting other people to do it and acting outraged when my kids aren’t given charity.

                • Anonymous says:

                  Yes, because of course *anyone* who can’t afford to feed thier kids is obviously a lazy bastard.

                  Jesus Christ, you’re an asshole.

                  Please ban this fucker.

                • Anonymous says:

                  I’m sorry I called you a “fucker” and an “asshole”.

                  And I actually don’t think banning you would be appropriate. After all, while you are occasionally obnoxious, you haven’t really crossed the line.

                  But to assume that all schoolchildren who don’t bring money to buy lunch are either lazy or have abusive parents is both obnoxious and, quite frankly, wrong.

                  I am well aware that you are successful, and while I don’t know you very well, I am aware that you have, in all probability, worked very hard to get where you are. As a less successful person, I bear no envy towards you, and am, in fact, quite happy for your good fortune. Please remember, though, that there are many people who, through no fault of their own, aren’t as well off. “I got where I was by working hard, therefore if you are poor its your fault for not being hardworking like me”, is often an invalid assumption.

                  Look, I’m not denying that lazy and/or abusive people exist. I’ve seen some of them. There are some kids who receive free school lunches whose parents are abusive. But to assume that’s true of all of them, or even the majority, is unwarranted.

          • SatanicPanic says:

            I had no idea things were so simple. I stand corrected.

          • delurking says:

            Shorter David Nieporent: I’ve never been poor, and I don’t know any people who ever have been poor.

      • cpinva says:

        “Images of tons of food being destroyed to keep the poors from getting it.”

        go back to the great depression, there are lots of photographs of california farmers destroying already harvested crops, to make sure no one could eat them. it’s a time honored tradition.

    • hickes01 says:

      Holy Fields of Athenry, Batman? Who’s running this School Lunch Program Sir Charles Trevelyan? This is the schools new fight song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Hqy8n3BcqA

  7. actor212 says:

    Y’know, front line drones behave the way they think their employers want them to behave, so hiding behind the hair nets is a coward’s way out.

    If you couldn’t think ahead that a school lunch program might occasionally run across a kid with not enough money to pay for food, then you’re dumb enough to deserve to lose the contract.

  8. Lee Rudolph says:

    Half on, half off topic—all about that “empathy” thang (and with an extra special media twist!):

    Yesterday, elseblog, I posted a quotation from the AP wire story on this topic.

    [One girl's] father, John, said he was incensed that while “there are people in prison who are getting meals, my daughter, an honor student, is going hungry.”

    Today, in the Boston Globe on-line, I found this:

    “There are murderers and rapists who ate lunch in prison that day, but my daughter didn’t get anything to eat?” said John Greaves

    So—which source is misquoting him (if either; I suppose that one reporter, seeing the other reporter’s account, phoned Mr. G. and got a new quote)? And, which of the two quotes makes him look like more of an asshole?

    • Malaclypse says:

      I don’t think either makes him an asshole. I don’t see him saying that people in prison should go hungry, he is saying that we are treating children worse than we treat prisoners.

      That’s a powerfully low bar, and the school didn’t clear it.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Actually, the fact that he thinks that it is relevant that his kid is an honors student makes him a bit of an asshole. I don’t care what her grades were, she deserves to eat.

        • Shakezula says:

          I don’t have kids but I can see being not exactly coherent if my child came home upset because she’d been denied lunch. (OK, knowing me I would be at the school with a foot lodged up the principal.)

          How about this for an explanation: He’s sensitive to the fact that there are fucknuggets who will hear she couldn’t afford lunch and assume lazywelfarecrackbaby.

          AND/OR

          He’s just proud she’s an honors student can couldn’t resist the chance to say so.

        • actor212 says:

          As a contrast, I don’t really have that big a problem with him pointing out she’s an honors student, anymore than I have a problem with, in the second quote, he specifies murderers and rapists. It’s an exaggeration but it paints an emotional picture.

        • djangermats says:

          I think when someone’s starving your kid you’re allowed that much being-an-asshole license

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        The first version certainly makes him an asshole for suggesting that an “honor student” is more deserving of lunch than “people in prison”. In the second version, instead of attributing a positive quality (being an “honor student”, on top of being just any student) to his daughter, he attributes negative qualities (being “murderers and rapists”, on top of just being “in prison”) to the prisoners. Both versions use modifiers to give his daughter a greater right to lunch than the prisoners.

        Certainly the reported “he” would have been more of an asshole if he had increased the gap between the “deserving hungry” and the “undeserving hungry” even further, by simultaneously attributing good qualities to his daughter and bad qualities to the prisoners. Also certainly (to me) he’d have been less of an asshole if he had omitted both attributions, and much less if he had contrasted the treatment of “schoolchildren” (not limited to his daughter) and “prisoners”.

        • Shakezula says:

          Yes, yes. It was funny the first time. But stating that pissed off human beings must maintain their composure and speak in a way that is thoughtful, considerate and not open to negative interpretation has a limited shelf life.

          • Lee Rudolph says:

            I didn’t intend to be funny.

            However, accepting that the two of us won’t get any further in a discussion of how to think about what the father said in the circumstances, I’m still interested in the journalistic question. The two direct quotations attributed to the father (inside quotation marks) are very different. That might be because he spoke to the press twice (without, if the Globe reporter spoke to him second, having restored his composure: the second quotation is, as I analyzed it after my shelf life had expired, more intemperate than the first), OR it might be because at least one of the reporters rewrote what he said (I think the differences are too great to be a matter of mere “misquotation” in the benign sense of “poor transcription”). The latter case bothers me, but I don’t know if it should. Which case do you think we are in, and if the latter, does that bother you?

            • Shakezula says:

              Ah, the journalism question, I could bore the shit out of you with that one. Short answer: If a reporter jazzed up his quote, that is a huge fuck up and yes it should bother you. I absolutely encourage botherment, if not outright hostility about inaccurate reporting. Particularly when so many people work off a recording.

              However, and assuming he was interviewed twice (which is what I hope happened, otherwise [long diatribe]), you cannot assume that the order in which the articles came out is also the order in which he made the statements, right?

              So, you could ask if his statements would bother you less if he made the second listed comment FIRST (when he was more upset) and the first listed comment later (when he’d calmed down a bit)?

            • Shakezula says:

              To be clear[er] there’s no way for me to even guess why the quotes are different. Best case scenario: He was interviewed twice and both quotes are accurate. Not so good scenario, someone was very sloppy and either put quotation marks where they didn’t belong or didn’t include our friend the ellipsis. That could be the reporter’s fault or the fault of anyone else who handled their copy. Worst case scenario: Deliberately inaccurate quote[s].

        • David M. Nieporent says:

          That’s right; there’s no such thing as undeserving.

          Well, maybe economists who blog thought experiments about rape. But certainly not actual rapists. We would never want to “attribute negative qualities” to them.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        I wonder if there are any cases where the same company that runs local prisons, also runs local school lunch programs – or, the school itself?

        What better incentive could a private company that runs all three have, than to seriously underfund the schools, and the school’s lunch program?
        Hungry kids don’t learn very well.

        Without being able to learn, the underperfoming students fail, feel that they have no futures, and turn to drugs and crime, and so end up a “customers” in the companies prison?

        And, once in the prison, there’s no incentive to educate and rehabilitate them, since what company doesn’t value return “customers?”

        “Privatization,” is the greatest scam Conservatives ever created.

        We need a “Publicize” movement!

        • David Hunt says:

          That’s a nifty little scenario of horror there, and I agree thta the incentives would be there to to exactly what you describe, but there is one minor error. Prisoners in privately run prisons are not customers; they are the product. The customers are the government entities that pay the private companies to process and store the prisoners.

          Never forget that although prisoners are almost invariably treated less humanely in a private prison system, that they are merely income producing units to the people running them, letting them bilk governments, and through them, society at large.

          • c u n d gulag says:

            Ah, good point!
            Thank you!!!

            So, if I got this right, the returning prisoners can then be like the used cars auto dealerships sell, that are the same cars they once sold as new to the original customer, and which were brought back to the dealership for it to resell.

            Yeah.
            Better.

            • David Hunt says:

              I chose not to place this in my post above, becuase I didn’t want to even imply that I thought of prisoners this way, but I imagine the accounting view would be something similar to the being paid to store toxic waste or some other unsavory substance that you’re trying to keep out of the environment In such a world, the people who are paid a fee per unit to store it, would find it economically desirably for there to be more toxic waste to store, even though society at large would prefer that we simply produce less of it to begin with.

              I repeat that I do not think of prisoner this way. This is my attempt to empathize with the type of thinking necessary to run a for-profit prison. It took me to that little spider’s nest of thought and I wanted to get exorcise it out my head.

          • Anna in PDX says:

            I think students are the product, too. I always feel like a product more than a consumer when I have to deal with any company that I pay, yet also has advertising (e.g., Comcast). I used to think consumer advocacy was a good thing and could make a difference to how companies behaved. So many sectors now think of the people who buy their stuff as a commodity and their real audience/consumers are other people who are selling something else.

            My son is in college at a state school and explained how even though he is paying a fixed rate per term for the cafeteria, they have this weird system where you have only so many floating meals (to use on the weekend). Once you have exceeded them you have to either pay extra for the meal or get food outside the cafeteria. The student cards are debit cards and as long as he has extra money in there he can spend it, but that money is over and above what we’ve already paid the school for the meal plan. I find this kind of awful. Kids still need to eat on Saturdays and Sundays.

            • Shakezula says:

              I went to a private college that actively encouraged the poors scholarship students to get the meal plan that worked out to two meals a day. Fuck that.

              Post-grad public university just didn’t serve dinner on Sunday. I never could figure out if it was because Jesus or some other reason.

              • Hogan says:

                I have a strong suspicion the words “We’re not paying overtime for that” were involved.

              • David M. Nieporent says:

                I went to a private college that offered the 15-meal plan because that’s what most college students want, not out of some nefarious plot to screw scholarship students.

                Hint: the world is not out to get you.

            • spencer says:

              We had that same system 20+ years ago in the cafeteria at the large state university I attended. Which is why I was only on the meal plan for my first semester.

              • sparks says:

                The meal plan at the university I attended had a better idea – they just made it inedible. They wouldn’t even serve corn, just hominy.

                • Shakezula says:

                  I was sore disappointed to find the food at public uni. was just as unfoodlike as the stuff served at private college. I assume there is money to be made from leftovers. Building material? Ships’ ballast?

            • David M. Nieporent says:

              Yes, it couldn’t possibly be because many students didn’t want to be forced to pay for meals that they weren’t going to use, because while they “need to eat” on weekends, they’re very frequently not going to be eating in the cafeteria.

              The only thing “weird” here is that you find this weird.

    • dl says:

      Greaves needs to be careful not to give the Culinary Group any ideas: Nutraloaf for those with negative balances!

    • joe from Lowell says:

      So—which source is misquoting him

      My guess is neither, and that this guy talked to every reporter he could find.

    • David M. Nieporent says:

      And, which of the two quotes makes him look like more of an asshole?

      The part about him being a deadbeat who didn’t pay his bills.

      Strangely, nobody seems to think it’s these parents’ fault.

      • spencer says:

        Um, no, we don’t.

        Because most of us grew up in a world where – because school cafeteria services were provided by GOVERNMENT and not some profit-driven entity – we were never denied lunch for being so much as a nickel past due on our accounts.

        And we DAMN sure never had to actually dump the food that was already prepared and handed to us.

        It’s cruel to those kids, it’s driven by greed, and it’s the direct result of the bankrupt “philosophy” of privatization, which DOESN’T WORK when applied to most necessary services, because there’s just no way to simultaneously provide the actual service and make a fucking profit.

        But then again, most of us didn’t have our brains short-circuited at age 14 by one of the worst novels ever written, so I can see how you’d be unable to follow all this.

        • Joshua says:

          Seriously. I can remember days back in school when kids forgot money for their lunch – this was before the days of debit cards, and few people were on the school lunch program. People just plum forgot. The idea that the cafeteria staff’s response to do this would be to let them starve is monstrous. There are no words or justifications for this.

        • David M. Nieporent says:

          I grew up in a world without “accounts” in the first place. Each day, you bought lunch, if you wanted to. With money. And if you didn’t bring money with you, nobody sold you lunch. It had nothing to do with “profit”; this was the government, not a private company. It had to do with the fact that it was a service for people who don’t want to bring lunches, not a soup kitchen.

          You might have done well to read a book or two by the time you turned 14. Maybe you’d learn where money comes from. Whether a service is provided by the government or by a private company, it has to be paid for. Not sure why you don’t grasp this.

          • John Protevi says:

            Luxury! I grew up in a world where we had to get up half an hour before we went to bed! You tell kids today what it was like and they don’t want to believe you.

            • sibusisodan says:

              You were lucky! We had to get up at 8pm the night before we went to bed, lick road clean wi’ tongue, and then go work down the mines for 28 hrs a day for tuppence a month, and then when we got home us mam and dad would cut us in twain wi’ bread knife and then dance about on our graves singin’ hallelujah…

              &c&c

          • Malaclypse says:

            Maybe you’d learn where money comes from.

            Part of me really wants to know where a glibertarian thinks “money” comes from.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        “Oh, you’re hungry, Junior? Blame your deadbeat parents, not me. Now get back to class.”

        Libertarian Utopia, Part. CCCXXVI

      • Shakezula says:

        Attention class, David wants everyone to pay attention to him. Please pay attention to David.

      • DrDick says:

        Further proof that libertarians are simply sociopathic moral monsters.

        • Shakezula says:

          To be fair there are three kinds of self-styled liberts:
          1. Ignorant people who think it sounds cool but are really way too nice be liberts.
          2. Raging assholes who are trying to take advantage of #1′s ignorance (see Rand Paul.)
          3. SMMs who have decided being a capitalist isn’t hardcore enough (See RP again).

          For the latter I will not be surprised if we start seeing odd matings of TalEvangical/Randian theory.

      • Cody says:

        Luckily her dad wasn’t a rapist or something – else we’d have to throw her in jail also for the sins of the father.

  9. Shakezula says:

    Although I fear the “solution” will be to require kids to stand there and fill out a form in triplicate when they run an overbalance. Let’s all point and laugh at the poor kid children!

    Oh well, let’s just sit back and watch various gibbertarian fucktards explain why depriving kids of meals is good for America. I’ve got some half bricks and empty bottles ready for deployment.

  10. Jon H says:

    But.. but… that company has “Values”, dammit, it even puts them on its website.

    http://www.whitsons.com/index.php/whitsons-values

    “Uplifting. That is what a meal should be. Good for the body and mind and nurturing to the spirit. At Whitsons, we understand this invisible, yet very real connection and how, to our customers, a meal can mean so much more than food on a plate.”

    “A deep commitment to family values and personalized service…
    Strong family values and personalized service are at the heart of our organization, the inspiration behind Whitsons and the vision that lights our path. The Whitcomb family continues to lead us and inspire us to impart this commitment in every aspect of our service to our customers.”

    Etc. Etc.

  11. Steve LaBonne says:

    With the same shit going on in Europe, when do we conclude that the human species is simply incapable of maintaining even minimally decent societies (with negligible exceptions over periods measured in mere decades)? There are days when I feel that climate change can’t drive us to extinction fast enough.

    • LeeEsq says:

      For most of human history, the rich and powerful beat down on everybody else for the biggest share of the goods. The time period between the end of WWII and 1980 was an aberration it seems. We are simply returning to form.

  12. Remind me again why we charge students for lunch?

    • Hogan says:

      Because if we didn’t we’d have to raise property taxes, and we just can’t be having with that.

      (Schools do have subsidized lunches for students from poorer families, and I believe the point of the card system is so that it’s not immediately obvious who is paying and who isn’t. It turns out that if you’re a big enough asshole, you can find a way around that.)

    • Linnaeus says:

      We can’t have children learning how to freeload in school now, can we?

    • David M. Nieporent says:

      TANSTAAFL.

    • Just Dropping By says:

      I generally don’t agree with Nierpont, but he’s 100% correct here. Somebody somewhere has to pay for the lunch. You can argue about who that/those someone(s) should be based on various theories, but there’s no escaping the ultimate conclusion that providing a lunch is a cost. Charging students part of the cost makes sense if they can afford it since they are the most direct beneficiaries of receiving the lunch.

      • delurking says:

        Right, especially in a public school. Because that would be socialism. Or something.

      • Paul Ryan's Tiny Testicles says:

        No one look up the history of school lunch programs in the U.S. That was … written by commies!

      • Jon H says:

        “providing a lunch is a cost. ”

        So is providing the education. We don’t have students pay at the door for that.

      • Djur says:

        Students generally don’t have any money, do they? It’s one thing to have them pay cash (which was how it was when I was in school) — the parents give the child the money and the child learns how to spend it. Fine.

        But that has well-publicized problems (potential of bullying and theft, making it clear which kids are on subsidized lunch programs, etc.) so the accounts make sense.

        Except, at that point, is there any real educational purpose to it at all? You’re directly charging the parents at that point, and you might as well do that through taxation instead of accounts (which probably aren’t free to manage at that).

        Since the school lunch programs need to have enough food on hand to feed every student anyway, it’s not like the students who bring their own lunches don’t end up contributing to the costs of the program.

        • DrDick says:

          Direct taxation is clearly the cheaper alternative since you eliminate some of the book keeping necessary under the present system. You also eliminate the corporate profit if you do not contract it out.

        • Malaclypse says:

          Mini-Mal, and all her classmates, have a card, pretty much like am ATM card. Mini-Mal is still, well, pretty mini, so her teacher has the PINs for the whole class. Whether the funds for the kids’ accounts come from parents, or the state, is known only to school administrators. AFAIK, she doesn’t even have the option to pay cash.

      • John Protevi says:

        Charging students part of the cost makes sense if they can afford it since they are the most direct beneficiaries of receiving the lunch.

        Oh FFS. Most direct beneficiaries? We need to start charging them for the water fountains too, because God knows I don’t directly benefi from what thenlittle water-guzzling wastrels slurp up. A little dehydration would teach them that there no such thing as a free sip!

  13. Shakezula says:

    P.S. The comments at CNN are exactly what you would expect. I think the pancake beast (or whatever your troll is called) is running about six IDs over there.

  14. DF says:

    This quote seems appropriate:

    “Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow. …and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

  15. Lego My Eggo says:

    I’m going to take the contrarian stand here and argue that school lunches, especially for smaller schools, is one case where privatization may be preferable, providing there is adequate accountability and oversight, which was clearly lacking here.

    The economies of scale increase quickly in the food-concession business, which is why almost no airline makes it own meals either. A big concession company like Marriott (e.g.) can obtain huge savings not just in bulk purchases of food product but also (and perhaps just as importantly) in labor costs and equipment purchasing and maintenance. I.e., outfitting a kitchen to produce 10,000 meals per session is nowhere near 10x the cost of outfitting a kitchen to produce a thousand per session. The labor costs don’t scale as efficiently, but they also scale, because of the nature of institutional food preparation.

    The problem here was not privatization but the lack of a clear policy, and the school board and school administrators — i.e, the people you people seem to think would have done a better job — were at least partly to blame for not making sure an acceptable policy was instituted and clearly articulated to handle this situation. And where were these saintly school admins when these lunches were being discarded? Were there no adults in the room other than the food service employees?

    I’m not for privatizing things for the sake or privatizing. Privately-run, taxpayer-financed schools and prisons shouldn’t exist. Medicaid funds shouldn’t be handed over to private companies to “administer”. The State Department shouldn’t be contracting its security out to professional mercenaries. But it’s not always the case that privatization is bad, and there’s really nothing here to suggest that privatization itself caused the problem.

    And don’t think for a moment that schools that run their own cafeterias never screw over poor kids, or give them the “special” meal when they can’t pay. To believe otherwise is incredibly naieve.

    • Shakezula says:

      The problem here was not privatization but the lack of a clear policy, and the school board and school administrators — i.e, the people you people seem to think would have done a better job — were at least partly to blame for not making sure an acceptable policy was instituted and clearly articulated to handle this situation.

      See and this is the one thing I do not buy. There were no discussions along the lines of “What do we do if there is a balance/cost differential on a particular client’s account What do we do if a student doesn’t have enough money to buy lunch? Well, there must have been at some point, because there is a special “free lunch,” for kids who couldn’t pay. It also requires me to believe a) No one in the cafeteria thought “Maybe I should ask,” and/or b) This was the first time students have ever been short.

      Plus it just reeks of the usual goat roping that goes on when bad people are caught being bad. “Waah, it was the help, a few rotten apples, no one could have possibly foreseen.”

      Also too, Marriott is perhaps not the example you want as it owns its food service (Sodexho).

    • John Protevi says:

      Well, the question is, if we can wish for accountability and oversight in the privatization case, why not wish for it in the public case? That is, some state oversight of the locals and fed oversight of the states? Furthermore, I think if you asked the workers would they prefer a school district job with union reps, pension, and health insurance, to a corporate job with (most likely) none of that, I think I know where I’d place my bets as to their preferences.

    • Decrease Mather says:

      It’s a question of who has the power. Do the school districts realize that the contract they bid is worth a lot, and they can use that as leverage against the private companies to ensure certain standards are met? I’m fine with that.

      I suspect what happens is the people who award the contracts see themselves a serving the private businesses rather than the schools.

    • NonyNony says:

      I invite you to scroll up and engage with Malaclypse above and explain how you would resolve the problems between points 2 and 3 with privatization of school lunches then.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      The benefits of centralizing food preparation to take advantage of economy of scale are all well and good, but why should that mean privatization, as opposed to a central school-run kitchen?

      • Lego My Eggo says:

        I’m not saying it should. I’m just saying that for some schools and school districts, using a private service may allow them to serve higher-quality meals for a lower price because of the economies of scale the contractor can achieve.

    • rea says:

      Well, it would help if the money paid by students went to the school and then the contractor got paid by the district, rather than have the students pay the contractor directly.

      The crucial point being to avoid giving the contractor financial incentives to screw over the kids . . .

    • Malaclypse says:

      You have a point about economies of scale, but keep in mind that a typical elementary school serves several hundred lunches a day, so most of that economy is already being realized. Given that the cost/meal was 2.86/meal last year, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you cut costs further by cutting quality, not by economies of scale.

      • Cody says:

        Isn’t the idea of hiring a business to create scale silly, when you could just have the entire United States under one system doling out food?

        Seems the argument here is for federal public education!

      • Lego My Eggo says:

        I’m going to go out on a limb and say you cut costs further by cutting quality, not by economies of scale.

        Don’t go too far out on that limb.

        See also why most relief charities would rather have your money than your canned goods. It’s not just that they get a lot of crap, but that they can buy, for example, a couple hundred pounds of flour for what you pay retail for a ten-pound bag. And this scaling for a lot of basic food commodities, especially dry goods and produce, pretty much keeps improving until you reach the shipping-container load.

        Furthermore, as I said, labor costs also scale well in institutional food prep. The same cook can make 2000 pounds of chili or 20 pounds of chili. It’s a matter of equipment, not labor.

      • Fortuna Veritas says:

        Wages. You cut wages. Public employees generally have to be treated better than those that corporations employ.

    • Jon H says:

      I suspect the California Department of Education could get better economies of scale than Sodexho, if they had a food service operation that served CA schools.

    • catbutler says:

      Or you could just have the school district centralize the project and get it out to its small schools that way. It would certainly provide better oversight than a for profit group.
      I’m not sure about really tiny rural schools and I kind of understand your point there, but from what I’ve seen outside contractors don’t really give two craps about feeding children.
      Anecdotal, but in Philly the lunch program is outsourced to a group affiliated with the Catholic archdiocese, at least at many of the charter schools and they really manage to screw the whole thing up. Those lunches are freakin’ atrocious. Just awful.
      My experience is that control is lost when things get outsourced to private groups no matter what pretense is made about accountability.

    • Fortuna Veritas says:

      Individual schools don’t contract out, generally speaking, usually it’s done at the level of the school board/school district, which covers several schools, K-12, so there’s some scale built in, requiring the private option to basically be bundling in the stock orders for several school districts to enjoy a discernible advantage in terms of scale.

      Further, the contractor’s employees involved in the food prep are generally going to still be working in a cafeteria on the school grounds so you’re not getting any advantages from privatization there, and if significant food prep occurs at as site not on school grounds you’ve got additional transportation costs as well as increased likelihood of a dependence upon ultra-processed foods.

      There’s a free and reduced lunch program, granted, budget cuts being what they are, there’s not enough funding there but there’s not enough funding to schools in general so that’s not really a point in favor of privatization so much as taxation.

      And the fact that monsters exist and are in charge of our children doesn’t excuse the fact that monsters exist and are in charge of corporate decisions. Both are bad and we should seek to eliminate them at every opportunity with gusto.

  16. joe from Lowell says:

    Maybe it was the individual employees who made the decision, and their decision went against the policy of the company. That still doesn’t get the company, or the concept of privatizing the service, off the hook.

    The company is responsible for training those employees, and the system of privatization established the incentives to which they responded.

    • bradp says:

      Call me crazy, but I think if you ran the whole “We could make more money by making kids dump out lunches they can’t pay for” idea by Whitson’s managers, it would have been probably shot down as great stupidity, principly because the only thing people will now know about Whitson’s is they are child-starvers.

      • Hogan says:

        If you’ve ever been around B-school types, you know they never say anything as explicit as “We could make more money by making kids dump out lunches they can’t pay for.” Something something revenue targets something incentives something something.

      • NonyNony says:

        But I think if you asked managers if kids without money should get free lunches anyway, they would say hell no – they’re supposed to get a sack lunch with a cheese sandwich in it instead.

        So poorly trained minimum wage worker on the line makes bad decision based on bad policy. Unsurprising, but it’s ALL the company’s fault here. Better training and paying more to hire better employees would have ended with this situation handled better. (Of course they probably can’t pay for better employees or better training and make a profit on this, so another indication that this is something that this is a public good that private companies should not be administering in the first place).

        Blaming the poorly trained minimum wage worker is just sorry ass-covering on the part of the company.

        • Shakezula says:

          Blaming the poorly trained minimum wage worker is just sorry ass-covering on the part of the company.

          I agree that it is wrong to say it is just the workers’ faults, but at the end of the day an adult said to a child “Dump your lunch.”

          So each time it happened, an adult made a choice. Keep their job (for now, I assume they’ll be fired), or be a fucking human being. And I know very well what sort of conditions they work and live under. But at the end of the day, it was their call.

          • sparks says:

            You mean, be a fucking human being out of a job, or be able to feed your own kids. Talk about choice, eh?

            That choice should never be put to a powerless worker.

            • Shakezula says:

              So you expect the greedy assholes who profit off this scam to make the call? Cute.

              People who say “I’m just doing my job,” or “I’ve got mouths to feed,” is exactly how the powerful want it to work. Just set things up so the proles enforce the filthy rules. And when they are caught out, the same bastards cry out in shock and horror. “Dear me, we had no idea. We shall fire the underlings who decided to do this horrible thing on their own.” Which has the delightful bonus of making the lower classes hostile towards one another.

              To cap it off the well padded and come along for a bit of condescending tongue cluck. “Tut-tut. No one can have expected to poor prole to risk his neck.”

              And the fucking cycle is ready to roll again. Yay!

              Shit, I’m not saying they had to jump up on the counter and call for revolution. Just let the fucking kids have their lunch and then shrug when/if someone notices the tater tot deficit.

  17. bradp says:

    Apparently all that Whitson’s company does is provide school meals. And a company who’s sole source of business is contracting out to public institutions may not be the greatest example of “privatization”.

    And what is the alternative, having the 80 or so schools who contract out to Whitsons manage the that all on their lonesome? I imagine the overhead for a company that contracts out like that is drastically lower than having 80 separate schools maintaining food service, even if Whitsons is milking taxpayers for a profit (note: I am extremely opposed to this privatization, it merely substitutes a non-profit government monopoly with a profit, government-mandated monopoly)

    Plus, I don’t see what details about this makes this a problem with private companies, so much as it is a problem school food service itself. No institution could be expected to keep that in the black.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Plus, I don’t see what details about this makes this a problem with private companies, so much as it is a problem school food service itself. No institution could be expected to keep that in the black.

      Run humanely, you are correct – it cannot be in the black.

      Yet Whitsons, it appears, is.

    • NonyNony says:

      And a company who’s sole source of business is contracting out to public institutions may not be the greatest example of “privatization”.

      What do you think privitization means?

      And what is the alternative, having the 80 or so schools who contract out to Whitsons manage the that all on their lonesome? I imagine the overhead for a company that contracts out like that is drastically lower than having 80 separate schools maintaining food service

      How about the 80 or so schools going in together in a co-op model? Nobody should be making a profit on this.

      I don’t see what details about this makes this a problem with private companies, so much as it is a problem school food service itself. No institution could be expected to keep that in the black.

      Which is an argument that this is something that should never be privatized and should be expected to run at a loss.

      The problem is that we have a country full of people with a “private companies can always outperform public entities” fetish, and this is patently untrue if you look at the actual details. There are many places where private companies should not be involved at all, and a public entity will always be a preferred approach. This is one of them.

      • DrDick says:

        See also health care and mail delivery.

      • David M. Nieporent says:

        What do you think privitization means?

        The term privatization is often used in that context, but it is misleading. The government here is just subcontracting out services, not truly “privatizing” them. It still involves taxation and government spending.

        Government collecting taxes and hiring employees to pick up everyone’s trash at the curbside: traditional government.
        Government collecting taxes and contracting with a private company to pick up everyone’s trash at the curbside: subcontracting.
        Individual homeowners looking in the yellow pages for a private company to hire to pick up their trash at the curbside: privatization.

    • DrDick says:

      Plus, I don’t see what details about this makes this a problem with private companies, so much as it is a problem school food service itself. No institution could be expected to keep that in the black.

      You do realize that your second question answers the implicit question in the first?

    • Fortuna Veritas says:

      Not using public employees. Changing the emphasis from feeding our nation’s children in the interest of the public good to turning a profit.

      Yeah, that’s privatization alright.

  18. Carbon Man says:

    Well at least they learned the very true lesson “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. If only more liberals had that experience at an early age maybe we wouldn’t have such a big spending problem in Washington or an entire underclass of idle, welfare-dependent losers in our major cities.

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