Santa Monica School Officials Seek Food Director's Ouster

Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials have called for the dismissal of food services director Ed Dodd, who disagreed with his superiors about the district's financially troubled school lunch program.

The formal recommendation to oust Dodd from his $29,000-a-year position was tabled by the district board Monday night to give Dodd and his attorney an opportunity to argue against the firing. The board must eventually vote on the recommendation.

"We have asked to be heard and they have granted us time to state our case," said David Durchfort, Dodd's attorney. "Right now it appears that he is being accused in retaliation for voicing his concerns about the high cost of (student) meals in the district."

Supt. George Caldwell would not comment on the recommended termination, but Durchfort said Dodd was being singled out for refusing to endorse several emergency cost-cutting measures proposed by his superiors to reduce losses in the school lunch program. Durchfort said he plans to meet with the board in two weeks.

The district's lunch program has lost an estimated $700,000 in two years, according to a recent audit. Rory Livingston, business services administrator, sought board approval in February for a series of changes to reduce losses. He proposed increasing the price of lunches by 25 cents, laying off six workers and reducing the daily operation of the cafeteria staff by 16 hours. The district has 42 cafeteria workers.

Dodd, who has been employed by the district for two years, spoke out against the recommendations in letters to the board and at public sessions.

He warned that a 25-cent price increase would result in a 40% drop in student lunch sales. (Student lunches average about $1.50.) He said that the district could avoid layoffs, increase student participation and cut its food purchases by $120,000 a year if it returned to a system of preparing all its meals at a centralized kitchen.

Livingston criticized Dodd in a Feb. 20 memorandum that Dodd made public. In it, Livingston told Dodd that his behavior was "totally unacceptable" and that he would not tolerate such actions.

"As a member of the management team of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, you will be expected to support these recommendations and to implement the board actions in a positive, forthright manner," the memorandum stated.

Livingston, who confirmed in an interview that he wrote the memorandum, criticized Dodd for voicing his opposition to the board instead of to him. Durchfort said that Dodd's defiance was listed as one of the reasons behind the termination recommendation.

"This is a dispute between managers and there should be another way of resolving it," Durchfort said.

Two years ago, the district stopped preparing its own meals and contracted with Preferred Meals System Inc. of Chicago to provide prepackaged meals for elementary school students. The high school has its own kitchen.

The board tabled Livingston's proposed cuts and called for an investigation into why the district has been losing money.

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