Pawtucket schools’ contract with Sodexo in jeopardy

Rhode Island DOE refuses to approve contract, citing district’s failure to follow proper procedures

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Education say they are "unable to approve" a new three-year food service contract with city mainstay Sodexo, meaning school officials must abandon the deal or risk losing big reimbursement dollars.

In a letter to school officials, Becky Bessette, administrator of child nutrition programs in the Office of Statewide Efficiencies, said that the Pawtucket School Committee "failed to follow the evaluation process pre-approved by RIDE" when it approved a contract with Sodexo over low-bidder Chartwells at a June 30 meeting.

"Lack of RIDE approval would impact our ability to reimburse Pawtucket for meals served through the school meal programs," wrote Bessette.

The total reimbursement that the Pawtucket School Department could stand to lose is more than $3.67 million, according to Bessette.

The ruling from RIDE appears to serve as an ultimatum for the Pawtucket School Committee: Either reverse course on the contract with Sodexo and sign a contract with Chartwells or risk losing the money.

"The matter is now in the hands of the Pawtucket School Department," said RIDE spokesman Elliot Krieger.

School Committee Chairman Michael Araujo, who said Monday that he "respected the bid process" and originally voted for Chartwells, had not heard about the ruling from RIDE. He told The Breeze that the school board will need to get advice from legal counsel before deciding what to do.

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