Flint, MI—The Flint Community Schools Board of Education voted to extend the district’s $3 million food service contract with SodexoMAGIC at a special board meeting Wednesday night—but not without a few cautionary notes. 

For months, several board members have raised concerns over the quality of food served to Flint students, their families, and the community. At the request of the board, Michael Williams, FCS’s Sodexo representative, gave an informational presentation prior to the vote.

Since March 2020, Sodexo has helped the district provide over 2 million meals to Flint residents. Due to COVID, not all meals sent home with students can be cooked for them to take home. Instead, students leave with food that can be prepared at home. Despite the difference, quality has not been compromised, Williams said. 

“Meals that we sent home for the students all have cooking directions to ensure fresh, home-cooked meals,” he said. 

Food served and prepared by Sodexo is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture and approved through the National School Lunch Program

Williams said Sodexo’s food offerings not only meet minimum standards, defined as having a vegetable, protein, grain, and dairy component in every meal, but exceed them. 

For the 2020-21 school year, the Michigan Department of Education awarded FCS approximately $126,000 in Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grant funds. This allows Sodexo to offer more diverse meals with exotic fruits including starfruit, passionfruit, and blood oranges. 

Williams also said compared to surrounding districts, FCS outperforms them in food services. 

“I did research on 10 surrounding school districts…and like I said, if we’re not on par, we’re exceeding. I looked at a lot of menus and they were repetitive, serving the same thing twice in one week,” Williams said. 

Sodexo places a heavy emphasis on providing lead-mitigating food, he said. 

“We want to we want to make sure that we give our students the best chance to succeed even though the water crisis shook the City of Flint to its core…Items that we serve on a daily and weekly basis combat lead poisoning. All or some of these items contain calcium, vitamin C, iron, zinc, and chlorophyll. These all help mitigate lead poisoning and exposure of lead poisoning,” Williams said. 

Board members asked whether parents and students’ requests were being taken into consideration. Williams assured them Sodexo was responding to all calls and regularly conducts student and parent surveys. 

Sodexo will continue to provide meals over the summer at all 11 schools. Water will also be available. 

Williams said Sodexo will also continue to partner with the Crim Fitness Foundation when needed to distribute food. The Crim has an existing partnership with FCS as the district’s community liaison. 

Board members inquired into the nature of the relationship between The Crim and Sodexo. Williams said he didn’t know exactly but it was “informal” and piggybacked off the existing partnership between FCS and The Crim. 

Secretary Danielle Green and Treasurer Laura MacIntyre both said they wanted more information regarding the partnership and said they were concerned The Crim may be too involved with the district. 

“This sounds wonderful, these relationships and coordinating things together. And I’m all for that…But I would like to be reassured that, you said that there’s nothing formal in place between Sodexo, and the Crim, I would like that, either in writing or I would like that to be checked out,” MacIntyre said. 

Due to her reservations, MacIntyre attempted to abstain from voting. Since her reason for abstaining didn’t qualify as a conflict of interest, she was required to vote by board policy. 

Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Ellis-McNeal also expressed hesitation about renewing the contract. 

“I’m so reluctant to say ‘yes’ but I don’t want to hold up the kids because a lot of questions just was not satisfactory answer,” Ellis-McNeal said. 

The final vote passed 6-0, with Trustee Diana Wright absent. 

“This is a discussion that is to be continued,” MacIntyre said. We do have a new board. So, we will be looking at your performance and the services that you’re providing, and the cost that you’re providing them at in greater detail moving forward.” 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...