YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Yakima School District has not ruled out hiring a company to oversee its food program, yet.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Yakima School District superintendent Elaine Beraza told KNDO the District is in the early process, but no contracts have been signed yet.
It's a decision some opponents fear could impact more than just the school budget.
Robert Beal, with Occupy Yakima, stood outside of Barge-Lincoln Elementary Wednesday morning to try and get attention from representatives with Chartwell's Food Services, on of the companies the District may consider. Representatives from Sodexo are also expected to make a visit to Yakima schools this week.
"We're concerned that this is a fast track, behind the scenes development that's going to affect the nutritional well-being and the learning ability of the children in the Yakima School District," said Beal.
Beal is concerned about the District's RFP, also known as a Request for Proposal, to contract its services to an out-of-state company.
"We want the community input, and we want employee input. And we want input from the professional dietitians and others who have gone through this process and see the results," explained Beal.
Beraza says Yakima may not even choose to hire a company to manage the food program.
"If in fact we put up an RFP and the proposals do not come back satisfactory, we simply then would try to implement these changes on our own," said Beraza, adding "We're going to shop to see if we can get something amazing, knowing that we're not in the position where we have to pay something."
Beraza says she wants a change that would allow for more food choices for students and still be healthy. "To be nutritious, get choice in their food, that we increase our participation rate, and that we have kids that actually eat more, and that we don't have as much waste going to the trash can," said Beraza.
Opponents have expressed their concern for how this change might affect current food staff.
"In no way would it change the employment status of any of our employees. We keep all of our employees," said Beraza.
Some have argued that the food would no longer come from local providers, if the services became a privatized.
"The community needs to understand that money is going to move from the local aspect here in Yakima, and it's going to move to out of state," said Paula Hudon, a retired dietician and former Yakima School District employee.
However, the superintendent says the food will be local. "We absolutely will require buying from local vendors and fresh produce. That would be an expectation," she explained.
Hudon says schools in Yakima do not serve a la carte food to elementary schools.
"To increase revenue, they've increased a la carte sales, which is exactly opposite of what we've been working towards, which is a healthy community," explained Hudon about some of the contract companies, adding "This is moving our students away from healthy eating to more sugar and more fat."
As for the "behind the scenes" district meetings? Beraza says anyone who has questions or comments regarding this issue can contact her directly.
"When we publish our RFP, we get back the proposal, we do all of our interviews; when we finish that process, we'll know," she explained.
Beraza expects a decision will be made on whether or not to move forward at the end of this month.