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The New Haven Public Schools Board of Education voted on Monday to adopt a memorandum which will grant food service staff greater flexibility to pay higher prices on specific food items and accept substitutions from vendors for different foods.  

COVID-19 has caused significant supply chain disruptions within the food service industry, leading to the Board’s actions in the memorandum. According to New Haven Food Executive Director Gail Sharry, important food items such as chicken, bread, grains, potatoes and hamburgers have all seen supply chain issues or price increases. Sharry explained that the district’s chicken provider has seen its prices to acquire chickens double, which has in turn led them to pass some costs onto NHPS through a 10-15 percent increase in prices for the district. This has caused NHPS to “stop offering chicken items in their menus.” Another problem, according to Acting Budget Director Michael Gormany, is the fact that NHPS is “competing with the rest of Connecticut” to buy food, which is only further complicating the matter.  

“The memorandum that was submitted to this board about the food service supply chain speaks to issues nationwide as we are looking at food shortages especially in food service programs in different municipalities in Connecticut,” Gormany said. “We are experiencing price increases within our contracts and the substitutions of products and this action should help alleviate those issues.” 

Moreover, the district’s hamburger vendor, Tyson Foods, canceled its contract with the district, according to Sharry. However, at a food service subcommittee meeting held on Wednesday, Sharry reported that the food service team has made progress in offering that contract to a new vendor. 

“It’s been really challenging these last few weeks with supply gaps and food shortages,” Sharry said. “Since the beginning of this year, we opted to not partake in price increases and accept swapped foods and this is causing us to have less and less items.” 

The BOE memorandum allows for public school staff to approve price increases within a contract as well as accept food substitutions from the vendors without having to come to the Board for approval. 

The normal procedure for accepting higher prices within a contract or accepting a substituted item requires the matter to be brought before the Board for a vote. However, according to Gormany, NHPS food services simply “cannot wait for days or weeks for Board approval” due to current shortages within the food service industry. 

While this memorandum allows for NHPS workers to accept price increases for specific products like breads, hamburgers, potatoes and grains, they will still have to come to the Board if they wish to increase the total price of a contract. 

Board of Education member Larry Conaway was supportive of these changes, saying that the “normal order of the world has been short-circuited by the pandemic.” 

“We’re living through really irregular times right now with the COVID-19 pandemic so we’re experiencing situations we’ve never seen before,” Conaway said. “Vendors are telling us that they can’t provide the foods on such short notice that we need to further empower our staff to get the food kids need.” 

Conaway added that these changes, including agreeing to accept higher prices for goods, should not affect the budget. NHPS is still under its allocated budget for food items, he said. However, he also recognized that NHPS has so far only had about 45 days of school and thus this situation can change over time. 

The vote last Monday by the Board of Education is already helping out the food service staff at NHPS, according to Sharry, who said that “the greater flexibility provided by the Board’s vote has allowed us to increase the amount of food we have for NHPS.” 

New Haven Public Schools serves 21,635 students. 

YASH ROY