The School District received its first shipment of commodity foods from the federal government last week, having reached an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that classified the high school as a sub-distributor.
Per the agreement, the School District may have all commodities delivered to the high school for distribution and preparation for the middle school and three elementary schools still participating in the Federal School Lunch program.Business Administrator Peter Curro told the School Board at its Nov. 3 meeting that he thinks state USDA officials were caught in the middle of tension between the District and the feds, following the District’s decision to leave the Federal Lunch program, and that the agency was trying to give the District the commodities that were being held up by officials in Washington.
The District missed three of its nine commodity shipments for the school year, a $105,000 allotment.
“We did have a delivery (the morning of Nov. 2), and pallets of food were pulled off the truck and are ready to be used in middle school and elementary school meals,” he said. “We believe we were treated a little unfairly at the outset by the USDA. Some of the requirements were a little high on us. I’m happy to say we’ve come at least to a resolution where we’ll be treated as we originally thought we would when we started this venture.”
With the commodities having been delivered to the high school for processing and distribution to the other four schools, quality control measures are in place to ensure none of those commodities make their way into meals for the high school students, according to Curro.
The high school was to undergo a federal inspection this week, which had been scheduled in April.
“It has nothing to do with our leaving the Federal Lunch program,” Curro said. “We’ll see how the inspection goes. If it goes well and we’re treated fairly, I think we’ll be okay. If we see they are imposing a high level of regulations, we may have to re-open this.”
Since leaving Federal Lunch, Dining Services Director Amanda Venezia has reported participation in the high school’s meals program has increased substantially.
Curro told the Board in September, average sales District-wide were $450 above sales last year in the same period, and average sales per day in October were $738 above sales last year for the same period.
“In 11 days of sales, (Venezia) has grossed over $3,000 in frozen yogurt alone, one food that would not have been allowed under national lunch,” he said.
Venezia is waiting for a new salad bar to arrive, which she thinks will further accelerate sales at the high school.
“It’s now safe to say we’re where we thought we would have been all along,” Curro said. “Things are looking optimistic. (Venezia) has been getting good reviews District-wide – not just at the high school, but at all four schools.”
“Does this mean the District will be ‘in the black’ this year?” board member Nancy Hendricks asked.
According to Curro, it’s still too early to say, noting they aren’t certain of the impact that subsidizing free and reduced lunch students from the general fund will have on the bottom line.
Board member John Laferriere expressed his gratitude to the local officials who put pressure on the federal government to back away from burdensome regulations for the District, and to the residents who took the time to contact those representatives.
“I also want to thank (Town Manager) Kevin Smith, because he had some involvement with this,” he said. “I think this was one of those times the Town and school sides worked together.”