Their Salaries Are Unbelievable
The San Diego Unified School District’s Food Services department is a $57-million-per-year institution that serves between 130,000 and 140,000 snacks and meals a day. And though the department’s financial operations analyst Pamela Kowalski says it’s not a nonprofit institution, she’s hesitant to call it for-profit either.
“Food Services in a school district is self-funded,” she says. “So in the majority of school districts, not all, we try to make the money to cover our expenses. It’s not really — I don’t want to say a profit — because there really isn’t a profit margin. We just don’t want to have to ever dip into the general fund.”
If the number of meals served were to shoot up drastically, and Food Services suddenly found itself with a big chunk of change, Kowalski says, “It would mean we can update some equipment, or if we’re serving more meals, we’d be able to hire more people. It would end up self-absorbing for the most part, unfortunately.”
While both the Food Services Department and individuals within the department have received state and national awards for outstanding achievement, not everyone is happy. One Food Services employee who chooses to remain anonymous, let’s call him Mr. Baker, believes that money is being misspent on management salaries and overordering.
“The administration is making all the money,” he says. “Their salaries are unbelievable. We do the work, but they get paid. My boss, Gary [Petill], I think his salary is, like, $155,000, $160,000.”
Kowalski laughs at this estimation, saying, “I bet Gary wishes.” Petill’s salary range is between $97,000 and $122,000, still a far cry from the $1700 a month Mr. Baker makes on the front lines.
Baker, who worked with Food Services for 18 years, has the opportunity to visit all 200 kitchens as part of his job. Food Services buys 23,000 pounds of chopped Romaine lettuce, 1200 cases of oranges, 34,900 cases of frozen food products, and 1,182,500½ pints of milk every month. Too much of it, he says, gets thrown away at the end of each day.
“I’d say we could feed all the homeless downtown probably with all the food we waste in these kitchens per day,” he says. “Management doesn’t listen to the workers, and we’re the ones feeding these children and we know what’s going on. But the people in the ivory tower are throwing these projections out, and it’s just a big waste.”
He estimates that they waste “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, easily” and says that if the members of what he calls the “good old girls’ club” would take the advice of the front-line workers, they might be able to work together to save that money.
Director Gary Petill, whose background is in hotel restaurant management, agrees that food waste is “unacceptable.” Food Services staff is, he says, doing everything they can to cut down on the waste. He also claims it’s not as simple as it may seem.
“When you’re dealing with a menu of seven choices and two thousand students eating, you’ve got to actually forecast how many of those items you think they’re going to select at certain locations. And that gets really tricky,” he says.
Area managers use daily tracking reports to forecast future service. They log amounts ordered and amounts sold, keeping track of increases or decreases when certain items are “menued together.” They then adjust the numbers accordingly, every day. Waste, Petill says, tends to shrink each time the same menu cycles around. But there is always some food left over.
For safety purposes, food that has been out for public consumption — such as on salad bars — and food that has been cooked gets thrown away. The answer of avoiding this waste, however, is not as simple as passing it on to the homeless.
“A lot of times, people say, ‘Let such and such organization come pick up [the leftovers],’” Petill says. “If something was hot and now it’s cold, and you give it to someone to take, and they go eat it, and someone gets sick, then you’re responsible.”
Some schools in the district, such as Crawford High School in Rolando, have begun composting programs. Petill hopes to see many more in the future. Although he says his department works hard to decrease the amount of waste, he also believes it’s important to have at least a little more on hand than needed.
“Food waste is a terrible thing,” he says. “To us, running out of food is worse because that means that a student doesn’t get to eat. And we can’t allow that to happen.”
Despite his complaints, Mr. Baker says there are some good things happening. For instance, he is “very happy with the salad bar. Kids are eating more and more from the salad bar. If you look on the campuses, we have a lot of obese kids. I know it starts at home, but as public servants, we’re supposed to try to help these children eat better and to give them better guidance.”
You Can Have Chips with the Kung Pao Chicken
On a Tuesday morning at 11:00, the kitchen at Scripps Ranch High School bustles with the activity of thirty-some-odd Food Services employees. They’re preparing for the throng of hungry kids who will crowd the service windows and lunch carts at exactly 11:31. The room is filled with the clank of metal pots, the squeak of carts being wheeled across the floor, and, every now and again, a voice shouting for applesauce. Everyone wears a hair net or a baseball cap and an apron. Some of the aprons are plain and functional, simple black or brown. Others bear seasonal motif, apples, pumpkins, falling leaves.
The temperature today is approximately 90 degrees, a welcome relief from the 106 it was at this time yesterday. Still, hot is hot. Area manager Pam Juarez mops her brow with a tissue pulled from the pocket of her apron, which bears the cartoon image of a quacking duck. Beneath the web-footed creature, the apron reads, “Shut the duck up!”