Public school classes have been delayed further.

Written by Brett Kelman – Pacific Daily News

Interim Superintendent Taling Taitano announced yesterday afternoon that the Department of Education has no choice but to delay the start of classes until Aug. 22.

Guam public schools had been scheduled to start Tuesday, but DOE announced Thursday that schools would open Aug. 15. Yesterday, DOE announced another delay that shifts the school year’s opening to Aug. 22.

Both delays are caused by campus cafeterias failing Public Health inspections. The contract to provide meals at public school cafeterias was recently passed to a new company following a competitive process. As of Thursday, 10 cafeterias had failed inspections, and several more failed yesterday.

These cafeterias will be run by Sodexo, a large company recently chosen to prepare school meals. The cafeteria services were previously provided by King’s Restaurant, a local company that prepared student meals for nine years but lost the contract in July.

A few cafeterias that are run by the Guam Department of Education are ready to go, but Sodexo’s cafeterias are in limbo.

“The schools that are with (Guam DOE) cafeterias are ready to open, but we want to keep everybody on the same calendar. We recognize this causes some difficulty, but at the end of the day, we are keeping the safety of our students at the top of the list,” Taitano said.

Taitano said schools are unable to open without cafeterias because it’s unfair to ask students to bring their own lunches. At some local schools, as many as 90 percent of families qualify for federally funded free or reduced-price lunch, she explained.

An added benefit of this two-week delay is that there should be enough time for International Bridge Corp. to complete work on the new John F. Kennedy High School campus, which does not have an operational permit yet.

No maintenance

Recent inspections have revealed that public school cafeterias have “obviously deteriorated” over the last two and a half months, Tom Nadeau, administrator of the Division of Environmental Health, said yesterday.

Problems include broken cooking equipment, leaky roofing and insufficient cooling or heating systems, Nadeau wrote in an e-mail response to questions from the Pacific Daily News.

Public Health last inspected these cafeterias in May, when the kitchens were managed by King’s, but many of these problems didn’t surface then, Nadeau said.

Like all inspections, those in May were “only a snapshot,” Nadeau wrote, and it is obvious that cafeteria conditions have worsened since then.

“After we leave, the condition of the (cafeteria) can greatly deteriorate or even improve. Sadly, it appears to be the former in these school cafeterias,” Nadeau stated. “According to my staff, even the equipment that King’s had left behind for Sodexo that were once working during our last visits are now inoperable or barely functioning.”

Despite three calls to its management, King’s could not be reached for comment about the condition of the cafeterias. Taitano said King’s was responsible for maintenance of the cafeterias until its contract expired in mid to late July.

With the King’s contract over, Sodexo received a green light on the meals contract last Friday, and only began work in school cafeterias this week, said Joseph Majka, the director of business development for Sodexo Services Guam.

That was when the cafeteria problems first surfaced.

Although Sodexo had done a brief walk-through of cafeterias while bidding for the food service contract, it was unable to assess the state of the kitchens until recently, Majka said.

“We had no idea,” Majka said yesterday. “We walked in and these were the conditions that were there when Public Health came in to inspect.”

Majka said yesterday that he was “confident” that Sodexo and DOE could get the school cafeterias ready within a week, but Taitano announced the additional delay a few hours later.

Public Health staff will work through the weekend so inspections can continue as quickly as possible, Nadeau wrote.

Inspection types

In past years, King’s has not faced the same struggles to open cafeterias after summer, but King’s didn’t face the same inspection requirements, either.

Because these public school cafeterias have changed management, health inspectors treat each cafeteria as if it was a new restaurant, being inspected for the first time, and not a functioning restaurant, which is only up for renewal.

The difference is a “pre-operational inspection” versus a “sanitation inspection,” Nadeau explained. A pre-operational inspection focuses on fixed issues such as heavy equipment, structural conditions and plumbing, while a sanitation inspection focuses on operational matters including food preparation and employee health.

Because King’s had held the food vendor contact for nearly a decade, the company had not had to pass a pre-operational inspection in years.

Had King’s kept the food service contract, the cafeterias would not have had to pass a pre-operational inspection this year, Nadeau wrote.

“Had King’s retained the contract, the permits would have been automatically renewed,” Nadeau wrote. “In the past, when we had the manpower, the division would not renew the permits without going through a detailed sanitation inspection. However, since we no longer have the staff number, it is renewed immediately. Thus, the violations would have been found later during regular sanitation inspections. So doing pre-op inspections has its advantages.”

Several months before King’s lost the food service contract, approximately 300 public school students fell ill after eating egg salad and melon slices at several schools that had been served by King’s. The incident triggered the health inspections in May.

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