Chicago Schools probes school-lunch deal

Inspector general asked to investigate possible bidding process violations.

June 24—For the second time in two years, Chicago Public Schools' $100 million-a-year food-services operation is being probed for alleged improprieties.

School officials are confirming that they've asked CPS Inspector General James Sullivan to review a recent preliminary decision to dump current food vendor Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality and Preferred Meal Systems in favor of a division of Aramark Corp.

Specifically being examined is the role played, if any, by CPS' new director of nutritional support services, Leslie Fowler. Until last July, Ms. Fowler worked for Aramark as a resident district manager in Rochester, N.Y. Then she was hired here to succeed Louise Esaian, who resigned amid reports that she had accepted gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars from officials at Chartwells.

 CPS insiders say Ms. Fowler was supposed to have walled herself off from participating in the bidding process, to which Aramark, Chartwells, Sodexo Group and Preferred Meal Systems responded. The bidding process was supposed to have been run by CPS' procurement unit, not by Ms. Fowler's school-lunch division, with Ms. Fowler having no vote. But Chartwells is complaining that she very much was involved, asking pointed questions of bidders, notifying them of the preliminary decision to go with Aramark and serving as boss to half of the members of the CPS bid-review committee.

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