District 97 will sign a new contract with its old hot lunch vendor, but in doing so, it has required that some new alternatives be provided.
Assistant Supt. for Finance and Operations Gary Lonquist began earlier this school year to work with Preferred Meal Systems, Inc. of Berkeley, the district's vendor, to reduce fat and saturated fat in the lunches, and offer other entree choices, such as vegetarian dishes.
Students and parents might not notice much difference when new menus are implemented in the fall, though. And because of governmental and economic restrictions placed on schools, Lonquist warns that little else might be changed with the meals.
"I don't think [menus] are going to change too much," Lonquist said. "There's not a great deal you can do."
One entree a week might be a healthier alternative, as called for in the district's bid, to which Preferred was one of two to respond and the only to place a formal bid. But the district still must meet school lunch calorie and nutrition guidelines established by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. And whether certain entrees are healthier or not matters little if kids won't eat them.
"We cannot be all things to all people," Lonquist said.
The district serves approximately 25,000 lunches and 2,000 breakfasts each month school is in session. That works out to three of every 10 students eating hot lunch on any given day. "Alternative" entrees would be offered district-wide as the only entree of the day.
Another restriction on what can be served at schools is the reliance on government commodities to help keep the costs of lunches low. Government-issued cheese and ground beef products keep costs low, but do little to help with lowering saturated fats, Lonquist said.
The district's per-meal cost in the new contract is $1.14 for elementary lunches and $1.24 for middle school lunches, which are larger. The elementary school prices are 8 percent lower than in the last contract with Preferred, which lasted five years. That contract, like the new one, was a one-year contract renewable in four additional one-year terms.
Lonquist said competition likely drove Preferred's prices down, and that the reduced price would not affect the quality of meals served, as all meals must meet federal guidelines.
Fees for lunches and milk will not be raised next year, board members said.
Some parents and teachers have called on the district to make lunches more nutritious. Sandy Noel, a physical education teacher at Hatch Elementary School, has brought in community businesses and organizations to host healthy breakfasts and healthy food tastings?#34;the highlights of wellness curricular studies that emphasize the importance of nutrition, hydration, exercise and sleep.
At Wednesday's board meeting, board member Peter Barber asked curriculum chief Mary Schneider whether the new contract will force Preferred to provide meals that reinforce the learning that takes place in the classroom.
"It's coming closer, that's for sure," Schneider said.
After the meeting, Lonquist said the tastings and other healthy food events have not been replacements for lunch, and that he doubted Preferred could provide fresh fruit or salad bars.
"I'm not sure that's their business," he said, adding that the district has neither the facilities to prepare and keep foods cold nor the space in most lunchrooms for more food service equipment.
Dist. 97 does not vend sodas or junk food within its schools to students.
Lonquist said he would have a clearer sense of how different the lunches will be once meal plans have been written over the summer.
Error leads to payroll deductions
An administrative error caused about half of the Dist. 97 secretaries to be paid more than their contracts stipulated last year. Now, the district is taking back its money, said Gary Lonquist, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
The error was made in calculating the number of vacations days available to members of the secretaries' and technology specialists' union, but Lonquist would not describe how it happened.
"I don't want to get into all of the arithmetical details," he said. "We made a mistake."
Twenty-seven employees received letters last Wednesday explaining the deductions, which began with last Friday's checks. Lonquist said the greatest amount overpaid to a single employee was roughly $1,200.
Reclamation of the overage will be "diluted" over the course of the next year's checks, he said.
Lonquist said the process of getting the district's money back was decided upon during the district's and union's last collective bargaining agreement.
An anonymous caller self-identified as a Dist. 97 secretary informed WEDNESDAY JOURNAL of the error.
New principals expected June 7
The announcement of new principals for Whittier Elementary and Brooks Middle School is expected at the June 7 Dist. 97 board meeting.
The district had hoped to have one or both announcements ready last week. Supt. John Fagan said Tuesday that all the necessary interviews had been conducted within the district, and that incoming Supt. Connie Collins had one or two interviews to conduct before making her final recommendations to the board.