Pawtucket schools boot Sodexo in favor of Aramark

Chartwells also loses out as school district is hamstrung by new state law.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The Pawtucket School Committee last week rescinded its controversial three-year contract extension with long-time food service provider Sodexo, scrapping its original request for proposals and starting over with the state-approved food service vendor, Aramark.

Committee member Joanne Bonollo made a motion to "reject and rescind all previous (requests for proposals) and to enter into a contract with the state-approved vendor Aramark, subject to acceptable negotiated terms," and the committee approved it on a 5-0 vote.

Some believed the school board would vote to rescind the contract with Sodexo and go with the original low-bidder, Chartwells, but school board members said an obscure new rule prevented them from doing that.

Chairman Michael Araujo explained that school attorneys caught a complex new rule inserted into the state bidding process this year that he says essentially prohibits school departments from accepting a profit with a food service contract unless officials want to risk losing tax-exempt status for bonds. It would have been a "huge gamble to take" to accept the bid from either Chartwells or Sodexo, said Araujo, and it's an issue state education officials should examine further in the future.

Araujo said school officials will do everything possible to protect the Sodexo employees who are being laid off as part of the switch. It wasn't immediately clear how many were being laid off and how many would be rehired as part of the transition to Aramark.

School board member Nicole Nordquist, who was among those who originally voted in June to give the contract to Sodexo, was one of several members who had choice words for representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Nordquist and others believe RIDE interfered in a process that they were handling just fine, forcing their hand by threatening to take away nearly $4 million in meal

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