Last year, the very public complaints of parents about the Breakfast in the classroom (BIC) program and its sudden implementation fell on deaf ears of the CPS administration and Board of Education. Today we read with great disappointment what was going on behind the scenes as the policy for that program was being shaped. An article published in today's Chicago Tribune sheds light on some of the "leaders" making this critical decision for Chicago school children.
The BIC program was implemented very suddenly and without prior public discussion or debate, despite serious concerns from parents about allergy exposures, hygiene issues associated with eating in classrooms, the exacerbation of rodent and pest issues, the transformation of teachers into food servers, and the inability for parents to gauge what their children were actually consuming. While BIC successfully leveraged federal funding to address the critical issue of food insecurity, the program design and measurement created new issues. Breakfast served in the classroom forcibly exposed children to food products that many parents did not approve of and created logistical nightmares for schools attempting to implement green "reduced waste" and recycling programs. The BIC program increased the Chartwells-Thompson contract by $10 million. Chartwells-Thompson and Preferred Meal Systems have combined food contracts with CPS in excess of $75 million.
Today we find out, according to the bold investigation by James Sullivan, the inspector general of Chicago Public Schools, that CPS employees in charge of contracts with food vendors received some $86,000 over several years in personal gifts from the chosen food suppliers. Gifts included lavish box seats and chartered buses to NFL games, expensive personal gifts and numerous meals out at expensive restaurants. It is with great irony that we note that our children’s meals which costs CPS around $1 per meal was being negotiated over dinner at the most upscale restaurants in our city, such as Nomi and Naha.
If there is a silver lining to this disheartening story, it is that there seems to be someone investigating waste and unethical business within CPS. We commend Mr. Sullivan for his hard work.
Unfortunately, though, if history is any indicator, we have to ask if this is an isolated incident of unethical relationships between CPS and its vendors, and to what end our children’s education is being shaped by these kinds of relationships. We hope the inspector general is delving further into these matters. This issue, and the sudden departure of CPS' new Director of Family and Community Engagement, should be a wake-up call that meaningfully engagement with parents is sorely needed to shape policy and pedagogy that keeps public school children at the center of all decision making