To boost participation in lunches at the high school, Business Administrator Peter Curro recommended the School District leave the Federal Lunch Program.
The School Board considered the costs and benefits of leaving the Federal Lunch Program at the high school during its Dec. 18 budget workshop, with members expressing a strong desire to break free.
Curro said Salem High School, the first to pilot the Free Milk Program after leaving the Federal Lunch Program, has seen a dramatic increase in sales of its non-reimbursable food items, such as French fries and a hamburger.
Despite losses that would result from leaving the federal program, including a potential 50 percent cut in the price at which the District could sell milk, an obligation to reimburse the free and reduced lunch program at an estimated cost of $40,000 and a potential reduction in adequacy funding; the Board thinks the only way to re-capture interest in the school lunch program is to bring back the meals kids enjoyed eating in the past.
“When I was in the high school a while ago, kids were begging to get out of school and go get food elsewhere. That just indicates to me the food is not the type they want,” board member John Laferriere said at the December meeting.
Food Service is running a deficit due to restrictions from the Federal government, declining enrollment, and student participation, local officials said.
Additionally, the cost to produce a meal exceeds the District’s revenue per meal. The schools would have to sell an additional 130 meals daily to break even.
If it moves to the Free Milk Program, Curro said they recommend setting the price of lunch at $2.75 for the high school, $2.25 for the middle school and $2 for the elementary schools, up from $2.20 at the high school, $2.10 at the middle school and $1.80 at the elementary school.
To become more financially stable, Curro and Food Service staff recommend including more choices, designing the serving area to include a grill for freshly grilled meals and a sandwich and salad bar, improving the look of the serving area with new equipment, and increasing the portions so the price is a value meal.
Last week, Curro said lifting calorie maximums mandated under the Federal Lunch Program is also expected to boost sales.
“The food is fine, they just don’t get enough of it,” he said.
According to a report Curro and Food Service staff presented to the Board, the Free Milk Program is expected to increase overall lunch meals participation by 40 percent.
The change to the Free Milk Program has only been recommended for the high school; however, the District’s commodities truck, which unloads food for all the schools at the high school, where it is stored in a centralized freezer and distributed to the other buildings, would no longer be permitted to go to the high school if the District withdrew from the Federal Lunch Program.
Because the middle and elementary schools don’t have a large enough storage unit for the federal meal deliveries, the District would have to find a way to divide the foods or build a storage unit at one of the other schools.
“We’re going to argue hard that because we have a central location, the other schools shouldn’t be penalized because of the high school,” Curro said. “We have also looked at a freezer warehouse and a place to store dry foods.”
Another hurdle to overcome is a potential reduction in adequacy funding.
Curro said the Department of Education doesn’t know how switching to the Free Milk Program would affect adequacy funding for the District, but that students enrolled in free lunch will still be counted in the funding formula and the District would lose only 23 students on reduced lunch.
In addition to moving to the Free Milk Program, the Board considered recommended renovations to the high school cafeteria, including the addition of a grill, opening the wall between the serving line and snack bar, a new serving line, the addition of a salad bar and a Grab ‘n’ Go refrigerator.
“What we’re seeing is the quality of food is important, choice is important, presentation is important, and presentation of the environment is important,” Curro said. “The kitchen hasn’t been renovated for many years. We’re looking at face lifting the kitchen area in the cafeteria.”?
The School Board will continue to consider its options regarding school lunches.