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Why DDS Really Sucks (1/3)

Jon Plodzik.jpgDartmouth Dining Services director Jon Plodzik spoke to members of the Student Assembly and the College community last week concerning discontent with DDS. As we have reported, lines at Dartmouth dining facilities and other food service venues are endless, the food is mediocre, prices are through the roof compared to local eateries, and students are nickled and dimed endlessly (meal plans are mandatory for students whether they live on campus or not; dollar balances only partially roll over to subsequent terms, etc.). Needless to say the natives are restless.

Thumbnail image for DDS Lines.jpgPlodzik is an engaging guy, and if he is as strong a dining hall manager as he is a politician, we are in good hands. He endlessly diverted discussions from DDS’ real problems to talk about the larger community, shared commitment, the overall cost of a Dartmouth education, the importance of the capital campaign (if you can believe it) and the justice of paying a “living wage” to the DDS staff. Sheesh.

That said, in response to several specific questions from your humble servant, he did make good on his self-call for transparency.

— The DDS budget includes the State of New Hampshire taxes levied on the College’s dining facilities. Most states do not tax institutions of higher learning; NH does in an indirect way. Rather than levying taxes on an entire institution, the State uses a proxy: charging property tax on dining halls and dormitories. Plodzik confirmed that this levy is an integral part of the DDS budget. To my mind, this tax should fairly be budgeted to the College as a whole. The total amount of the tax paid to Hanover in 2017 was $7,347,278, of which a significant portion covered dining facilities. Students should not have these charges included in the cost of meal plans.

— As we reported several years ago, DDS makes a profit. That is, the amount of money that DDS takes in exceeds the cost of providing food to students. In the 2010/2011 year, that surplus was $1.3 million, a record profit about which then-DDS Director Dave Newlove boasted on his LinkedIn page. Plodzik confirmed that DDS still makes a profit, and he expects the amount to increase in the near term so that DDS can “contribute to the College” as part of the ongoing expense reallocation initiative. In other words, a DDS meal plan contains an element of undergraduate tuition, probably several million dollars.

— Plodzik previously worked for seventeen years at UNH, where he said students “loved” the dining service. He also noted that on average workers at DDS earned “$4-$5/hour more” than UNH workers — a premium of at least 30%, or many millions of dollars in the DDS budget. He went on and on about the “living wage” — which is a sympathetic argument, except for the fact that DDS workers earn far in excess of the living wage as indicated for Grafton County by the MIT Living Wage Calculator. As we have noted in the past, too, DDS wages and benefits are over double what comparable workers earn in the Upper Valley. As we calculated, a young couple with no more than high school diplomas who mop floors at DDS would earn more money than 72.5% of American households.

— The presence of the SEIU labor union ties Plodzik’s hands as regards managing people, he said. He has strong workers and others who, uh, give less than a full effort. But the union work rules prevent him from putting together a uniformly strong team and saving plenty of money in the process. Given the College’s wage and benefit levels, one would think that workers would be lining up to work for DDS, and therefore Plodzik could put together an ace squad. Not the case. Students pay a lot, and they don’t even get a crack group of employees for all that spending.

In short, a back-of-the-envelope calculation would have a good third of the DDS budget going to other goals than providing Dartmouth students with nutritious and delicious food at a reasonable price. My humble opinion is that the College dining services should be run to benefit students. Do you disagree? The administration sure does.

Addendum: Here is the Town of Hanover’s list of its top taxpayers. It’s not clear what percentage of the below amount comes from the College’s dining facilities and what comes from an assessment on dorms, but the amount is significant.

Hanover Top Ten Taxpayers 2017.jpg

Addendum: Curiously enough, the D’s report contains almost none of the above information.

Addendum: The Student Assembly report on Jon Plodzik’s comments ignored all of the interesting bits, too. As Mark Felt told Woodward and Bernstein about the Watergate scandal: “Follow the money.” Here is the SA report:

SA on DDS.jpg

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

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