School Board learns about school lunch changes

It has only been one year since the Monticello school district switched food service providers to Sodexo Dining Services, and the company has brought some new ideas to the district’s food program along with changes brought about by new federal school lunch legislation.
On Monday evening Sodexo’s food service manager, Joe Happe, gave school board members a run-down on how school lunch has changed and what to expect as they look ahead to next year.
One highlight of the year Happe said he was especially proud of is a new milk carton recycling program. He said this recycling program saved 46 trees in one-half of a school year, turning nine tons of otherwise landfill-languishing milk cartons into tissue paper.
Other food-related highlights of the 2012-2013 school year included a fine dining etiquette experience for sixth graders, a high school culinary hot dish competition where two winning recipes – Mexican lasagna and shepherd’s pie – were put into the school lunch rotation, and an A-Z sample bar for elementary students to try new fruits and vegetables.
Because of new federal school lunch legislation, Happe said there are no longer trans fats in any school lunch recipes, and the district added 100 percent whole grains into pizza, pasta and bread. They now give students at least ½ cup of fruits and vegetables with each meal and offer six fruit and vegetable options per day.
“This way if a kid didn’t like something we were serving, there was always an option for something else,” Happe said.
Coming up for next year, the breakfast program must include one-half of all grains served as whole-grain rich, and the year after that it will be 100 percent whole-grain rich. Next year will also bring new ranges for the amount of grains and calories that can be served during lunch, and lower sodium requirements to boot.  Happe said he has visited family consumer science (FACS) classes at the high school and middle school to talk to students about the changes this new legislation has brought to school lunch and the reasoning behind them.
One new addition for next year that Happe discussed enthusiastically is the Weekend Backpack program, which he said would help alleviate student hunger during weekends by providing at-risk students with non-perishable foods to take home in inconspicuous backpacks. Students will bring the empty backpacks back to school on Mondays and another supply of food will be sent home the next Friday.
The Monticello Food Shelf and the Rotary Club has already committed their support, and he said the program is looking for more local organizations, businesses and churches to jump on board to make it successful.
“This [program] will fill in that gap that we’re missing with these kids as far as hunger goes,” he said. “I’m really excited to get this program running next year to really help our kids.”
“Some of the things you’re doing – this is what we heard about when we decided to go with Sodexo, so that’s really exciting,” board chair Robbie Smith said.
In other business, the board:
• Approved the 2013-2014 budget 5-1. Business manager Tina Burkholder finalized the budget assumptions she laid out at last month’s meeting, with no changes save for adding the 1.5 percent funding increase for next year that the state legislature has now officially passed. The district will hire four new teaching staff members for next year to account for growing student enrollment and should have an unassigned fund balance of 8.18 percent at the end of next school year, which is well within the district’s 6-10 percent goal.
The budget did not approve unanimously because board member Scott Hill sought to have a portion of the budgeted contribution to post-employment benefits unassigned, saying he feels the amount set aside for this fund might be more than is needed. Hill wanted these funds unassigned until they get the results of a forthcoming actuarial report, but other board members said they felt the contribution was the right thing to do and said they could unassign some of the funds later if the actuarial report showed it wasn’t necessary.
• Set the school board election for Nov. 5, 2013. The election will be held for three school board seats, currently held by Scott Hill, Liz Leitch-Sell and Robbie Smith. Hill and Leitch-Sell currently do not plan on running again. The filing period runs from July 30-Aug. 13. An Affidavit of Candidacy can be filed in the office of the school district clerk with a $2 filing fee.
• Accepted several donations to the district: an Origin Instrument device for those who have difficulty accessing a device from Ashley Peterson-Stalberger, $5,600 from the Wright County United Way to MHS for students in need and prevention programming, and a $4,500 donation from the community to the MHS vocal music department. Two thousand dollars of this donation came from Bill Caldwell, the remaining from Larry Kanthak’s retirement events.
The next board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Monday, July 1 in the middle school board room.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.