Tough to swallow: Houston school district says it has $2.6 million in surplus food

chickens

About $2.6 million worth of extra food exists in Houston public schools’ inventory, and the Houston Independent School District refuses to explain why.

Administrators for the Houston Independent School District told the school board on Monday during an afternoon meeting about the surplus -- which is enough to pay the annual salaries of 58 teachers on the lowest rung of HISD's pay scale.

But HISD officials did not explain how it happened, whether the food is perishable or what will be done with it.

“We bought something that didn’t go into the books,” board President Mike Lunceford said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Where is our inventory listed? There’s nothing in the (2012-13 recommended district budget). The income statement is the only thing (HISD administrators) supply.”

Lunceford asked HISD staff members several times who paid for that $2.6 million worth of food and how those food items are being accounted for.

“My question wasn’t answered,” said Lunceford, who added that he still intended to find out.

Lunceford said he would like district officials to explain the $2.6 million: “Are we serving more food? Better food? What are we carrying over (into next school year) in our inventory?”

Brian Giles, the district’s senior administrator of food services, referred Texas Watchdog’s questions to HISD’s media relations department.

Asked to explain the surplus, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer declined.

“Rather than have our staff rehash the meeting again, perhaps you should contact board services (staff) to schedule a time to come listen to the audio recording to determine whether you might have missed something,” Spencer said in an e-mail.

HISD contracts with the Philadelphia-based company Aramark to manage its food service operations.

Ray Danilowicz, Aramark’s executive general manager for the company’s HISD account, is on vacation this week, according to his assistant.

Because of the way HISD administrators structure the food service fund, it functions like “a stand-alone business,” Lunceford said. That being the case, a balance sheet with assets -- inventory, for example -- and liabilities should be available, he said.

The district’s food services budget will hit almost $113 million next year, according to the recommended 2012-13 budget. Federal taxpayers will foot the lion’s share of the bill, $102.6 million. The district expects to bring in $9.6 million from food sales.

The school board is expected to approve a $1.524 billion operating budget for 2012-13 Thursday.

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Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of roast chicken at a school in Arlington, Va., by flickr user USDAgov.

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