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Tallinn education leaders not convinced if expensive food is higher-quality

Tallinn schoolchildren have to be fed with €1.34 a day - an amount that has not been increased for years. As there was a lot of competition between companies in the joint procurement of school catering, Tallinn's education leaders are no longer convinced that the cost of a school lunch would be too low or that a higher price would also ensure higher quality food.

This year, the Tallinn Board of Education organized a joint procurement of catering for 24 schools, but the schools are not satisfied with the results, ETV's weekly show "Pealtnägija" reported. According to the schools, the quality of the food has further decreased, which is why the school family of Tallinn Common High School has given up eating the school food and is using temporary solutions.

Andres Pajula, the head of the Tallinn Board of Education, says that behind the joint procurement of school catering is the desire of the schools themselves.

"According to the current rules, all schools should procure or authorize someone else. This was a mandate. Basically, organizing international procurements every five years is very difficult. It demands a lot of effort to do this procurement every five years," Pajula said.

The procurement must be international because, in the case of large schools with a thousand children, the cost of the procurement will be so high for the five years that the requirement arises directly from the law.

However, the schools were dissatisfied with the result. Although the food is unprecedentedly bad or there's not enough time to feed all children.

"During the procurement, we learned and specified the circumstances of how to make a procurement in order to get quality and selection, so that the best possible food would be on the table," Pajula said.

Although the contracts are valid for five years, there are schools each year where the contract is awarded.

Pajula said that a record number of schools needed a caterer this year because the procurements organized by some of the schools themselves had failed in the past, so they continued with an extended contract with the previous caterer. Next year, there will be fewer schools that need a new caterer.

"In the future, if schools want to, we are ready to help and we are ready to carry out these procurements for them as well."

However, the Education Board is not bothering with the procurements for the next academic year yet, they will be dealt with in February-March.

Speaking about quality, however, he says that the requirements for future procurements will certainly be partially included in the requirement for organic food.

The cost of school meals may not increase

For years, both schools and parents have been upset about the fact that €1.34 a day is not enough to get quality food. However, the money for food has still not been raised. Education leaders will also remain silent regarding the new financial year.

Pajula repeatedly emphasizes that "the topic is on the table", but does not agree to say anything more specific.

"Nothing can be said about the budget because the budget procedure is still ongoing. No one can and will not give any estimates at the moment. The budget is a political document, no more comments," Pajula said adding that the question of raising the cost of a meal is "how " not "whether".

Pajula pointed out that the cost of school meals is not too low, but procurement competition between companies was intense last year.

"If we look at these offers, it was not a problem that there are no providers for that money, but there were relatively many of them, so we can offer different food choices relatively well," Pajula said. "Raising the cost of a food day is a question of how to raise it so that something changes. Decision-makers want to see that when it comes to money, what changes then. The issue is on the table, but we don't have final decisions today."

Budget depends on elections

Deputy Mayor Vadim Belobrovtsev (Center) also refuses to say, but next year's budget plans to increase the daily cost of school meals.

"The 2022 budget is being drafted, but what that budget will be depends primarily on the results of the elections," he says. "In the course of next year's budget, we will continue to discuss this issue and also consider the possibility and need to increase the marginal price, but now it is a little early to talk about it."

However, he also refers to the increase in the cost of food, commenting on the intensity of competition in the market.

"Today, competition in this sector is very intense, despite the long-standing marginal price, which shows that businesses are very interested in this sector. This raises the question of whether the price is still low. Whether raising the price affects the quality of school lunches," he said. "Our goal has not only been to offer a free school lunch but still to offer a high-quality school lunch so that as many children as possible can enjoy it."

Belobrovtsev confirms that the issue has been discussed repeatedly both in the city government and with the Education Board. They have also met with caterers to discuss how to organize the catering.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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