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New Rochelle School District Tries (and Fails) to Spin Devastating Journal News Cafeteria Report

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New Rochelle School District Tries (and Fails) to Spin Devastating Journal News Cafeteria Report

September 15, 2009 - 17:21
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902D5FA9-EE7F-448C-8AB7-6774E419B988.jpgErnie 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"

2. "Aramark"

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.

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This reminds me of an email that was widely circulated last year. I wonder if anything came of it.

Subject: SCHOOL LUNCH

The below email has been sent to pta contacts within the district. If you have any comments please respond to Valerie.

Subject: RE: School lunch
Sent: Thursday, March 05, 2009 5:44:54 PM EST

Hello Everybody - I hope you are all doing well. I have been busy getting ready for No Junk Food Week. In the midst of it, our hot lunch experience at Ward school is deteriorating at a rapid rate. I wanted to know if any of your schools were having problems.

Most recently (i.e. - this week and last week) there is simply not enough food to serve the children in the school. The 4th graders (the last served) are down to two pancakes (minus the "dried" egg - whatever that is -- and minus sausage. When that ran out, they were given white bread and american cheese (that's it). Today children received 3 chicken nuggets (as opposed to six).

For months now the kids are getting left-overs. For example, they have hamburgers "fresh" on Wed. and will get them reheated on Thursday. They have also been served Friday's pizza the following Monday. I am told that the hot dogs bounce, although I have never witnessed it :). I am sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg. My children do not get any hot lunch this year. I cut out their Friday pizza when Ward school's milk was found to be well beyond it's expiration date last year.

I have long been concerned about the quality and variety of the food served by Aramak from a nutritional and taste perspective. However, I am now concerned from a safety perspective. Serving old, reheated and potentially spoiled food is plain unsafe. Not having enough food to satisfy the caloric and nutritional needs of students is beyond reprehensible. For many children in Ward (and the district) hot lunch is their only chance at a "meal" all day. Thus, it is their only opportunity to receive the nutrients they need to fuel their mind and body.

It is an outrage and an embarrassment that Aramak is failing to provide even the "basics" to our children. It is my understanding that there have been problems at Ward school for some time with this food service. I spoke to Dr. Weiss this afternoon and she advised me that she has not received complaints from other schools in the district.

I am wondering if the reason for that is that there are no problems in other schools or that it hasn't been escalated to Dr. Weiss. If you do have problems/complaints in your school, now is the time to speak up about it. I feel that our children are entitled to a better food service provider and I know that they are out there.

Please share your thoughts with me on this issue. As you know, there is strength in numbers and I feel it might be time for a change.

Please pass this e-mail on to anyone you think I may have missed. (I am working off my e-mail contacts from last year). Thanks so much.

Best,

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