Food-Service Company Expands Its Menu

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When Jamie Horwitch looked for an after-school program for her son Todd, who is enrolled in a half-day kindergarten class, she didn't have to go far to find one she liked.

Aramark Educational Resources Inc.

Headquarters: Golden, Colo.
Owned by: Aramark Corp., the Philadelphia-based food and service concessionaire.
1999 revenues: $400 million.
Principal Businesses: Child care (Children's World Learning Centers, workplace-care centers), before- and after-school programs in public schools (Medallion School Partnerships), and private schools (Meritor Academies).

Todd's public school, Willow Grove Kindergarten Center, located in this leafy suburb northwest of Chicago, offers before- and after-school programs and enrichment classes run by a private company in its own wing of the building.

"The fact that they are here under the same roof made it a slam dunk," Ms. Horwitch said last month.

The program is called a Medallion School Partnership, and it is operated by Aramark Educational Resources Inc. of Golden, Colo. If the name of the company sounds familiar, that's because AER is a division of Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., a large food and service concessionaire serving sports stadiums, convention centers, corporate workplaces, and schools.

When the 2000 Olympic Games get under way in Sydney, Australia, Aramark will be running the 24-hour food service in the athletes' village. The company already serves lunches and provides other services, such as uniform cleaning, to some 300 U.S. school districts.

But the Colorado-based unit has a separate focus on educational services. Starting with a chain of child-care centers that Aramark has owned for 12 years, it has quietly expanded into running private elementary schools, before- and after-school programs in public schools, and corporate day-care centers.

"Not many people have heard of us as far as using the Aramark name" in educational services, said Duane V. Larson, the president and chief executive officer of AER.

Can a company perhaps best known for serving hot dogs at the ballpark do a good job helping to educate children?

John M. McLaughlin, the former publisher of a newsletter covering the education industry and now an adviser to education businesses, thinks so.

"They have a very experienced management team," he said. "And they have a strong financial mothership behind them."

Aramark had revenues of $6.7 billion last year and a net income of $150 million. The company is majority-owned by its 152,000 employees, and its shares are not publicly traded.

Aramark Educational Resources had revenues of $400 million in 1999 and expects that to grow to $450 million this year, Mr. Larson said. Eighty-six percent of AER's revenues come from the Children's World child-care chain, which has some 600 centers and is the country's second-largest such chain after Kinder-Care Learning Centers.

The Medallion brand was started in 1997 to serve the needs of parents who didn't want to have to shuffle their children off to a different site once the school day ended. The program's chief competition comes from nonprofits such as the YMCA.

The Medallion program is now in place in 660 public schools and serves some 24,000 students. It includes enrichment classes, which help kindergartners with language and social development, and a before- and after-school program called Champions, which lets children get a snack, read a book, play with educational toys, or burn off energy on the playground.

Medallion Wing

The Willow Grove school here is in the 3,500-student Kildeer Countryside elementary district, one of hundreds of small districts in suburban Chicago. Because the district provides only a half-day kindergarten program, parents were clamoring for options for the other half of the school day, as well as for extended care, said Andrea Freier, the school board president.

The district received bids from AER and the local park district, which ran its own enrichment and before- and after-school programs. AER won the contract and started its program last fall.

Ms. Freier said the Medallion program at first had trouble keeping employees, and disagreement arose between the district and the program over "the meaning of enrichment."

"But we sat down with them and ironed it out," she said.

Valerie Hertel, the administrator of the Medallion program at Willow Grove, said the program's four staff members are well-educated—one just completed her doctorate in child psychology—and eager.

"They send letters home every day with the kids to let parents know what's going on in the program," Ms. Hertel said.

One-third of the school's 300 pupils are enrolled in the enrichment classes; another 33 attend only the before- or after-school segment. Parents can choose to send their children every day or just a few days a week.

The enrichment program costs $17 a day, while the two-hour before-school program is $5 a day, and the three-hour after-school sessions are $10 a day.

"The cost is a little higher than I'm used to for day care, but in terms of the value added, it is worth it," said Kathy Rooney, who enrolled her son in the after-school program.

One luxury at Willow Grove is that the Medallion program has its own wing, including several classrooms and a lunch/activity room, with a separate entrance from the main school.

Some Medallion partnerships have to make do with taking over the gym or lunchroom, said Richard W. Turpenoff, the executive vice president of AER.

The company is expanding Medallion at a careful pace to maintain its standards of quality, Mr. Turpenoff said.

"If a hot dog is served cold, nobody will get too excited about it," he said. But he knows that school administrators and parents have higher expectations than the average fan at the ballgame.

Funding for the Business Page is provided in part by the Ford Foundation, which helps underwrite coverage of the changing definition of public schooling.

Vol. 20, Issue 2, Page 8

Published in Print: September 13, 2000, as Food-Service Company Expands Its Menu
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