Loudoun County Public Schools is spending a quarter of a million dollars a year on ice cream.
Taken without context, that figure may seem staggering. But not so much when you take into account the school system’s $1.28 billion fiscal year 2020 operating budget and the more than 82,000 students enrolled in the school system.
The School Board approved the $250,000 renewal contract with Garber’s Ice Cream Company last week, among more than $12.8 million across five food supply contract renewals.
The contracts needed to be approved prior to the board’s summer break for the services to be up and running for the start of school, said Becky Domokos-Bays, director of school nutrition services for the school system—a system she’s described as “the biggest restaurant in town.” While costs are around 3-5 percent higher than last year, administrators anticipate some fluctuation in prices on certain products related to weather conditions and crop shortages during the first half of the year. Domokos-Bays keeps tabs on prices regularly and is running another report at the end of this week.
“I think it is coming,” said Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), responding to a comment about anticipating meal price increases during the Finance Committee meeting. Domokos-Bays’ budget takes into account projections and fluctuations, and if an individual food item becomes too pricey, administrators remove the item from the menu until prices come down.
“We have a threshold, and if the price goes too high, we’ll take it off,” Domokos-Bays said. “We haven’t asked for lunch price increases since I’ve been here.”
During the committee meeting, School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) questioned why the staff only received one vendor response for milk and related services, from Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms. The board approved a $1.01 million renewal contract with the company.
The reason, Domokos-Bays said, relates to the size of the school district and the daily needs to service 92 stops. “Every county around here uses the same milk vendor,” she said. The contract includes more than 3.1 million 8-ounce cartons of fat-free chocolate milk.
Loudoun’s schools are not just feeding kids ice cream and chocolate milk—the board-approved contracts also include $380,000 for fresh produce from Keany Produce Company of Landover, MD with everything from apples to kale.
The beverage contract with Merchants Grocery Company will cost the school system $889,969 for the 2019-20 school year. That includes $296,750 for 25,000 cases of Switch carbonated juice beverage and $148,370 for 37,000 cases of Nestle Pure Life drinking water, as well as $140,000 for CapriSun juice, $119,872 for Gatorade G2, around $100,000 for three Ardmore products and $68,810 for Naked Juice.
The other food-related contract approved last week was the largest—a $10.36-million renewal with Culpeper-based Merchants Grocery Inc. More than 300 food, beverage and non-food supporting items are covered under that contract, ranging from string cheese and sunflower butter to disposable forks and napkins. All of the renewal contracts start Aug. 1 this year and run through July 31, 2020.
Superintendent Eric Williams praised Domokos-Bays during the School Board meeting, her final appearance before the board. After five years with the school system and a 25-year career in food nutrition, Domokos-Bays retired June 30. She leaves on a high note, having received the National Director of the Year award in May from the School Nutrition Association, an organization where she served as a past president.