What is in this article?:
Changing the course of a district the size of LAUSD has been a massive effort. Much has been said, some right and some wrong, about it, but an accurate portrayal of its full scope and scale has been missing. FM takes an in-depth look.
A top-to-bottom review
Together, they undertook a top-to-bottom review of the operations and pursued major structural and policy changes as a result. Among the most significant:
✓ a re-designed system for hiring and employee training with a move to documented performance planning and reviews;
✓ implementation of a site-by-site P&L management system;
✓ a streamlined approach to menu planning and production;
✓ an innovative approach to procurement and category sourcing that breaks new ground in school foodservice;
✓ a strategy for engaging suppliers in efforts to improve the image of LAUSD foodservices;
✓ and a complete restructuring of the district’s approach to using commodity allocations from the USDA.
“Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done,” Binkle says. Still, the groundwork is laid and its results offer a good insight into where the district will likely go from here.
A Focus on HR, Training and P&L management
As a first line of attack, Barrett sought to address inadequacies in the district’s HR processes. In 2006, there were 800 open positions among a staff of 4,200, a vacancy rate of almost 20 percent. The main reason: a bureaucratic hiring process that took four to six months for each new employee.
The long delay meant many applicants gave up. There was no training or orientation system and the need to fill openings was so desperate that new hires were put to work in schools immediately to sink or swim.
Changing that took a series of complex negotiations with the district’s Personnel Commission. This led to opening three regional offices and restructured hiring policies to let the district evaluate and hire applicants much more quickly. A 10-day training period was made mandatory for new hires; it emphasized basic procedures, especially in areas related to the noted CRE deficiencies.
After the CRE audit in 2005, the district had to develop a plan for corrective actions to address its 77 pages of findings. Many were related to poor record-keeping across operations, which for the most part was still done manually.
The biggest problem was accounting and accountability. Also, there were no P&L or KPI metrics with which to compare school performances or manage operations. Roy Romer, district superintendent, convinced the board to invest bond money to automate the department’s systems and bring them into compliance. Michael Eugene, the district’s business manager, charged Barrett and his team with developing a plan to implement these and other corrective actions.
Back office systems—for production and forecasting, procurement, inventory, POS tracking, meal applications—were all essentially re-invented. The department's management structure was strengthened and Timikel Sharpe, deputy director of HR, training and finance, was tasked with developing an automated system for performance planning and evaluation.
The Bottom Line: Today, new staff can be hired as quickly as needed background and other checks are completed; the vacancy rate is consistently under two percent. Performance evaluation is part of the culture with measurable standards used across the system. KPI comparisons of a pilot breakfast in the classroom program show it has helped reduce tardiness and discipline problems. And in 2009, another CRE audit in which 41 reviewers visited 47 sites reported no serious findings.
Coordinating Menu Planning and Procurement
The menu planning system in place in 2006 was dysfunctional in many respects. USDA Foods offerings were taken whether they fit meal plans or not. Menus were created month-to-month based on available warehouse inventory even though, by and large, menu planning was not coordinated with procurement.
High schools offered up to 15 entrée choices daily, based on individual school menuing decisions. This—along with manual record-keeping—added tremendous inefficiencies to the system and made effective planning impossible. Warehouse stock was driven by the bid process, with nearly 70 separate bids awarded each year. There was also the matter of excess inventory: $20 million worth of food in the warehouse, $3 million in offsite facilities and another $5 million at processor sites.
The management team—Barrett, Binkle, Sharpe, as well as Laura Benavidez (deputy director of operations) and Mark Baida (then, LAUSD’s executive chef)—developed a menu business plan with three major components:
✓ utilization of existing inventory and that under contract;
✓ converting the existing bid invitation process to an RFP process that would increase purchasing leverage;
✓ and developing a menu plan that would comply with the new USDA meal regulations coming from Congress in 2010.
To make up for the $7 million commodity credit “overspend," the district took no USDA Foods that year and menus were planned to use up excess warehouse inventory. To standardize product needs, the district now plans only four district-wide menus with about 20 items in rotation on a three-week cycle. Reducing the number of items and increasing the volume of each reduces inventory costs and unit prices.