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Report- St. Louis school's restaurant bill enough to cover a do

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- A popular midtown St. Louis eatery has proven particularly popular with the city school district.

An audit by the district's new management team calculated the bill at the Salad Bowl cafeteria at $444,975 for one year. Upon learning of the amount, the account was immediately closed, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday.

The Salad Bowl hosted 222 separate affairs -- faculty lunches, weekend workshops, school board meetings, etc. The tab came to an average of $8,557 a week.

The district spent enough money at the Salad Bowl from July 1 of last year to June 30 of this year to cover the annual salaries of more than a dozen first-year teachers, the newspaper reported. The figure is more than half the amount the district saved by shutting Cupples Elementary, one of 16 schools that were closed this summer by the interim management team that took over effective with the retirement of former superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. on June 30.

"This is an example of the nonessential expenditures that do not impact the quality of education," said the district's acting chief financial officer, Sajan George. "This is what we are trying to eliminate."

George's firm, New York-based Alvarez & Marsal, has a $5 million contract to run the district for up to a year. Part of the firm's charge is to cut administrative costs and spend those dollars on instruction.

George told the newspaper that other savings, taken together, add up to millions. In one case, the school district continued to pay insurance premiums on a 1998 bus that was sold four years ago to a north St. Louis County hospitality company.

The Salad Bowl, which offers free banquet rooms along with comfort food, opened in 1948 and has become a city institution, the preferred haunt for many local politicians and dealmakers. David Sewing, who owns the restaurant with his brothers, twins Norman and Norbert, said the school district had been one of the cafeteria's top customers, ordering "three or four times a week."

Sewing guesses that part of the reason school employees were such steady customers was the Salad Bowl was one of the few places that offered the district credit and tolerated its slow payments. Payback would take "months and months," Sewing said.

"I have talked to many of my suppliers, and they won't deal with them," Sewing said. "They would never get their money."

In the school year that begins next Monday, each school and department will have an allotted monthly amount to spend on meals.

"If you have an hour-and-a-half meeting, you don't have to schedule it over lunch," George said. "You can bring your own."

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