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By Dan Rudy 

Supplementary lunch program given go-ahead

 


Next year’s lunch program was the hottest item on the menu for Wrangell School Board’s final meeting before the summer on Monday.

Previously at its May meeting the board voted to withdraw from its contract with NANA Management Services, which had supplied food and cafeteria services for the district last year. On Monday members elected to withdraw from the National School Lunch Program as well, releasing the district from its requirements to pursue its own supplemental lunch program.

The plan put forward by school superintendent Patrick Mayer and business manager Pam Roope would see service run on a minimalist schedule, with one staffer spending two hours each day to prepare, serve and clean up after breakfasts and lunches at both schools.

Roope said the task will be less daunting than it might sound, with simple meals to be served to a limited number of students. She anticipated only 35 students would participate in breakfast, and up to double that at lunch.

A time study conducted by a member of staff last week demonstrated it could be done, Roope said. Though she could not name the staffer for personnel privacy reasons, she said the person was a top candidate for the job.

“She’s done this before,” Roope said. However, applicants for the position are still welcome. “We will look at all comers.”

Though finalized numbers were not prepared, Roope expected the program could cost $60,000. If service took three hours to implement instead of two, she estimated it might only cost an extra $3,600. With $105,000 budgeted for the lunch program next year, the school district would have ample financial room for fine-tuning.

Last year’s meal services cost the district around $179,000 to implement. The loss of state one-time funding and planned cuts put the entire program in peril, and by April the board had been prepared to cut lunch service entirely.

Board members found some of the figures being presented hard to swallow.

Cyni Waddington was concerned about the two-hour schedule. She felt it would not be enough time to fix and serve lunches, and that the system risked getting bogged down.

“Especially at first. All the kids are going to want to try it,” she said. “It’s a very, very limited amount of time.”

Rinda Howell expressed concern with the food budget, and where supplies would be sourced from.

Roope replied she was not sure where the food will be bought, but that the district would like to keep it local.

“To some extent you can’t keep it local and make it affordable,” Howell said. She recommended inquiring about wholesale opportunities for certain staples.

Due to time constraints being considered, board member Aleisha Mollen raised the possibility of food allergens being problematic. She wanted to know whether there would be time for specialized menu items for children who needed them.

“I don’t want to see peanut butter on the menu,” Howell added.

Board chair Susan Eagle interjected they were not there to set the menu. However, she told Roope the board would need to see regular feedback on the program early on, with specific data. Eagle acquiesced that the transition would be an experimental one, and that the course would need to be taken with an open mind.

“As far as I know, this approach is our own,” Mayer said.

The board approved the program in a 3-to-1 vote, with Mollen the sole no. Afterward she explained she did not feel the plan presented was the best option for the kids.

“I want to make sure that they don’t lose quality just because they have no other options,” she responded. Mollen added: “Since it has been passed, we now have the responsibility to make it the best we can and I will embrace that.”

 

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