Florence One school board debates hiring private food vendor

Pee Dee

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Thursday’s special called meeting for Florence School District One was tense, as the district looks to hire a private vendor to run its food services despite concerns from cafeteria workers.

Florence One decided earlier this month to accept offers from private companies to manage the district’s food services. That didn’t stop some board members from trying to convince the rest of the board to stop the search.

Despite backlash from cafeteria workers, Florence One will move forward with its search for a private food vendor.

“I’m begging,” said board member Rev. E.J. McIver. “Please, let’s rescind that entire thing.”

Board member Alexis Pipkins Sr. called for a comprehensive audit to see if outsourcing management of food services makes financial sense.

“This is hogwash to sit here and to try to stuff that a request for a proposal is the way to evaluate the programs and the services,” Pipkins Sr. said.

Rev. McIver agreed.

“If we look at those weaknesses we have, we can address those,” he said.

The board members opposed to the privatization say they’re worried about the effect of a contractor on current and future cafeteria workers.

“If that company folds and leaves two years down the road, what happens to those employees and their benefits,” asked Pipkins Sr.

Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley says workers won’t lose their jobs if Florence One hires a private vendor.

Board vice chair Trisha Caulder tried to reassure the over capacity crowd at the meeting.

“You are not going to be put out of your job unless you don’t do the job,” Caulder said. “That’s the thing. You perform, you should be ok.”

Dr. O’Malley also says food services may run more efficiently under private management.

“You can clearly look in our financials, and that’s what these companies do, that we are losing money,” said O’Malley.

Florence One says a committee will review the applicants, potentially visiting the businesses. The board would then vote to accept a contract this summer, before the start of next school year. The board could also choose to not accept any contract.

Vendors have until May 24 to apply to manage Florence One’s food services.

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