The District 97 Board of Education will hear a formal recommendation Jan. 24 to expand its pilot lunch program, administered by Oak Park and River Forest High School, to all elementary and middle schools starting this fall.
The recommendation to expand the program, currently at Beye and Irving elementary schools, was brought up at last Wednesday’s regular Dist. 97 board meeting.
Don Robinson, asst. supt. for finance and operations, told the board that the pilot program at Beye and Irving was popular among parents and students, and that it could expand district-wide without creating an extra financial burden to the district.
Beye, 230 N. Cuyler Ave., and Irving, 1125 S. Cuyler Ave., were chosen last year to have lunches prepared by OPRF. The program, Robinson said, would absorb the remaining eight elementary and middle schools.
Students at Beye and Irving are currently charged $2.25 for hot lunches. Robinson said the price would increase by 25 cents if the program goes district-wide. The money charged to students is paid to OPRF.
Lunch services for the eight other schools is provided by Preferred Meals Inc., whose contract is renewed annually. The current contract ends at the end of the school year this summer and would not be renewed if the board approves the recommendation, Robinson said.
“Everyone seems very excited about the program,” he said.
The district would not have to hire additional lunchroom staff, Robinson said. Robinson said he would ask the board to approve a resolution to expand the program at the Feb. 24 meeting.
OPRF prepares and delivers meals to Beye and Irving while Dist. 97 lunchroom staff serves the lunches. OPRF has two drivers and would hire another, and possibly an additional high school lunchroom staff person to accommodate the remaining schools, said Micheline Piekarski, director of food and nutrition services for OPRF.
Piekarski and Cheryl Whitham, OPRF’s chief financial officer, attended last Wednesday’s board meeting.
Robinson said the number of hot lunches served at the two schools was noticeably higher than the previous year, but did not have actual figures.
Piekarski told the board that since the program launched last August, the numbers have not gone down.
“That says to me that students are enjoying it because these are repeat menus, so they’re obviously coming back,” she said.
OPRF would need to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Dist. 97 before taking on the additional schools. OPRF would need at least a verbal agreement by the beginning of February, said Whitham.
As for the additional schools, Robinson said those schools’ PTOs have expressed interest in participating in the program.
Once delivered, the lunches are set up on steam tables, which were purchased by the Beye and Irving PTOs. Beye and Irving paid $2,500 each for their tables, lower than the normal $3,500-$4,000 price tag, said Irving PTO president Ron Martin on Monday.
Martin said Beye and Irving purchased the tables together at the lower price.
The schools are also conducting separate surveys of parents and students about the pilot program.
Martin said he’s gotten about 50 responses from the survey, which is available on paper and online until Friday. Most of the responses, he said, have been favorable.
“People are generally happy with the program the way it is,” Martin said.
Some of the comments from parents include wanting vegetarian options, a salad bar and having more variety of foods. The complete survey results will be presented to the board, Martin said.
Board members Sharon Patchak-Layman and Peter Barber suggested having a joint meeting with OPRF’s school board on other shared service opportunities, and on the state’s decision to allow both districts to withdraw from the Cicero Township Treasurer’s Office.
Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, Dist. 97 board president, said both districts have had ongoing discussions about a number of issues. She said the joint meeting suggestion was worth exploring, but that both boards have full agendas that might prevent such a meeting from happening anytime soon.