Ernie Garcia and Cathey O'Donnell of the Journal News have their Cafeteria Inspection Reports story up on lohud.com and New Rochelle school officials are furiously spinning in a vain attempt to shift responsibility for their vermin-ridden kitchens and their practice of serving hazardous food to children.
We wrote about this yesterday: New Rochelle School Cafeterias Ranked Worst in Westchester: Ants, Roaches, Rats and Flies
In working on our story yesterday based on a review of the health department reports obtained by the Journal News, I knew to expect the following excuses:
1. "we are a big school district"
3. "old news"
Sure enough, Quinn is quoted offering the following excuses:
In response to the reporter pointing out that "virtually all of New Rochelle's unacceptable inspections were for major food-safety violations related to the storage of prepared foods at unsafe temperatures" Quinn uses the "old news" excuse -- the district fixed the problem by, get this, "ordering new thermometers".
Really? Was that the problem? Tuna was left out at room temperature because there were not enough thermometers? Bacetria-filled ground beef was being improperly reheated and served to kids due to a thermometer shortage? Hell, if that's the problem I will pay for new thermometers myself.
Regarding violations like "flies, dead roaches and rodent droppings" (the JN left out a dead rodent at the high school and ants crawling on the food at Jefferson), Quinn again uses the "old news" excuse -- "the district changed its pest-control contractor". Does that mean we are suing the old one?
It does not take long for Quinn to reach for the old "we are a large district" excuse telling the JN that New Rochelle is "one of the largest in Westchester County, serving more than 1 million meals a year to a student body of 11,000".
Unfortunately for Quinn, facts are a stubborn thing. Yonkers is much bigger and had zero "unacceptable" ratings. Comparable-sized districts throughout the area had zero or one. So, how does size make it OK for New Rochelle to have TEN? TEN!!! We are the only district to be in double-digits and we average one "unacceptable" inspection PER SCHOOL. We had more individual schools (8) cited than any other district. The data compiled by the JN shows absolutely no correlation between "size of district" and "number of 'unacceptable' ratings".
Quinn then puts on his best happy-face to say inspectors' visits were "helpful" because "We use it as a tool and another set of eyes to help provide good quality food service, and we follow up on it. You'll see that in the inspections".
Again, really? In 2006 and 2007 the District had FOUR "unacceptable" ratings. Most Districts in Westchester and Putnam county have ZERO in a given year as was the case again this year. We averaged two a year for the previous two years and then the number went up 500% to 10 in 2008. So how are these visits helpful when the trend is a massive INCREASE in "unacceptable ratings".
Does this sound familiar coming from Quinn? It should. This is the same guy who told the JN last year that OT for the District would be going down and then made a similar statement the next year after the amount of OT went UP. He blamed the OT increases on "snow removal" -- a year in which there were just two snow days.
I am already hearing whispers that Aramark will be blamed next. After all, Aramark was in litigation with the District at the time, right? The implication of that defense, however, would be the District is accusing Aramark of purposely flunking inspections or purposely create unsafe/unsanitary conditions. If that starts to become part of the spin I will contact Aramark myself asking them to comment on such claims. I would imagine if THAT is going to be the position of the District then we an expect another lawsuit from them PDQ.
I will certainly raise this cafeteria inspection issue to the school board which will, if past is prologue, claim they did not know about these problems. Of course, prior to 2008, the district flunked FOUR inspections which ought to have been more than sufficient to get their attention. The ant infestation at Jefferson was widely known. Parents at Ward were warned by their kid's teachers about the rodent infestation at that school. Last I heard that rodent infestation at Ward is ongoing, new exterminators or not.
Organisciak recently told the board that New York State inspectors had flagged the school cafeterias for inspection just a few months ago. Like Quinn, he tried to paint a happy-face on that, making it sound like the District was being honored or praised. Did no one on the board think to ask why the State not the County was investigating the District? Did they really not know? Actually, that last part I believe -- that the board was told the State inspectors are roaming our cafeterias and no one on the board thought to ask why that was happening. Asleep at the switch as usual. Now we know why the State flagged New Rochelle: we have some of the WORST cafeterias in the State of New York.
Parents at Ward have been complaining for quite a while about improperly stored and heated food into this current year so how have these "helpful" inspections address that. Last I heard there are still rodents roaming loose throughout the school. As I recall, Organisciak made some public statements that the parents at Ward who were complaining were not making legitimate complaints. I recall him saying "consider the source" when a parent at another school asked about the reported problems at Ward as a way to discredit the parents at Ward. Turns out the parent was right and the questionable source was, as usual, Organisciak.
We can only wonder if Mr. Hastie, current board member and former head of the Ward PTA, is going to sit by and allow other board members and the administration pretend they did not know about the many parent complaints about Ward. I also wonder what parents at Jefferson and Trinity will have to say. And I am reasonably confident that few parents understood the problems up at New Rochelle High School.