School Board Gets Update on District Food Services-Haley Paton Dufour

School District Dining Services Director Amanda Venezia briefed the School Board on the current program, noting the need to keep up with increases in enrollment.

Venezia also told the School Board at its Tuesday, Oct. 11 meeting about the new point-of-sales-system and announced that the previous school year ended with a surplus of $32,255.11. This included some of the $50,000 that the board had granted Dining Services to purchase equipment.

According to Venezia, roughly $38,000 was spent on “some big pieces of equipment.” Two double-decker ovens were purchased over the summer for Matthew Thornton and North elementary schools.

She noted that what Dining Services still needs is a new van. “Our van is very, very old. It actually did not pass inspection last week,” Venezia said.

Although the van only has 77,000 miles, it is a 2002 model that was purchased used. Dining Services is currently waiting for a new door for the van.

Venezia described the new sales system as “a bit of a learning curve” on the administrative side, as Dining Services began using its  new inventory system. But she spoke positively of the system overall, saying that it has “revolutionized” their services.

“Now everything is working very smoothly and we feel very confident in the system that we currently have, that it’s meeting our needs in terms of what we need to do in our cafeterias, especially with our high school being off (the federal lunch) program and our elementary and middle schools being on the program,” Venezia said.

Venezia added that there is a “need to look at how we will feed elementary school students quicker” as enrollment increases.

Regarding the free and reduced lunch program, School District Business Administrator Peter Curro said it “has seen an uptick in applications” and that the increase was “across the board.”

“We have seen more and more people utilizing that capability as we get closer to the deadline for rollover from last year’s eligibilities,” Curro said.

Vice Chair Leitha Reilly asked about the new payment system for parents and the absence of a customization process, as compared to the old system. The old system allowed parents to choose what Dining Services items they did and did not want their children to be able to purchase.

Venezia explained that the new system does not allow for parents to set preferences, but that the week before the start of school an email was sent to parents, asking them to contact Dining Services directly regarding restrictions.

“It’s very much a conversation between me and the parent, understanding what they do and do not want for restrictions for their students,” Venezia said.

Reilly praised the new system’s “personal service” but expressed concern with it, citing the number of students and the processing time for requests.

Venezia assured the board that so far, the system is working.

Curro explained the change was made because the old system led to some confusion.

“With this way, everybody understands what’s going to happen,” Curro said, citing a hypothetical example of a parent restricting desserts but not ice cream, not realizing that ice cream was included in the restrictions as a dessert.

Reilly expressed support for Dining Services’ efforts, saying, “If there’s something we can do to help lessen the load on you so you can actually focus on Dining Services, that would be a good thing, so we’ll just keep that in mind.”

Board member Jenn Ganem was supportive of the new system, saying she was one of the parents who had contacted Venezia directly.

“I appreciate that we were able to fine tune it because I had different requests for different kids,” Ganem said.

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