Monticello School District dining program continues evolution

Lunchtime is one part of the school day that nearly every student enjoys.

At last Monday night’s school board meeting, the district’s food service manager, Joe Happe, gave the board a summary of last year’s lunch program, where he discussed the program’s rising profits, where those additional monies are going and what to expect for the coming school year.

School meal prices in Monticello have been rising $.10 per year since 2011 as mandated by the passage of the federal government’s Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

As part of the act, lunch prices must incrementally increase until the price of a school lunch reaches the dollar amount that the meal actually costs, currently $2.57.

Right now the federal government kicks in $.27 per paid meal and $2.86 for free lunch students, which business manager Tina Burkholder said also helps to subsidize paid family costs.

Happe said the food program had a revenue increase of 3.5 percent from the prior year, despite the large number of days off students had for snow and cold.

Additionally, he said profits were up almost 87 percent last year from the year before.

The school served 5,000 more lunches last year than the previous year at 617,000 meals, and he said breakfast sales were also up by 24 percent.

With parents spending additional money each month to cover increased lunch prices, some may wonder where those additional profits are being spent.

Business manager Tina Burkholder said the food service fund actually broke even with operations with the exception of two money-saving instances.

First, she said one kitchen employee was out for over half of the school year last year, and the substitute cost the district $10,000 less than the regular employee.

Secondly, she said four employees switched from family health insurance to single during the school year, which saved the district $37,000.

The rest, she said, went toward food costs, increased fruit, vegetable and whole grain options and additional costs for the transportation of food.

Happe said they would continue to put additional revenue toward more quality food choices, replacing Pinewood’s 37-year-old dishwasher and adding some more kitchen necessities to Pinewood’s other kitchen, which will now be used to serve lunch to all kindergarten students with the beginning of the all-day kindergarten program.

The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 has been changing school lunch in many ways over the past few years, and the upcoming school year will see a focus on the district’s a la carte offerings to bring them in line with new nutrition standards.

Happe said this means some food and beverage items will be going away, such as the cheese dip offered with pretzels and hot chocolate.

However, they will be expanding on other things, such as the new yogurt bar students enjoyed last year at the middle and high schools.

Also, school food service staff will all be certified in nutrition and allergy training this year to help make the lunchroom safer for students with special dietary needs.

Happe said the first year of the Weekend Backpack program for food insecure students was a smashing success, distributing about nine tons of food and supplies to students throughout the year.

Next year students who qualify for reduced price lunch, not just free lunches, will be eligible for the backpack program, and they will add the middle and high school’s programs in the upcoming school year.

The money for the backpack program comes from donations from outside organizations such as the Lion’s Club and Rotary Club, so no district dollars are used. Happe said Monticello’s program is inspiring many other local districts to look into forming similar programs.

Another new program from last year, the Pig Program, is saving nearly $200 per week on garbage costs just at the middle school, Happe said.

The high school also participates in the pig program, where students separate food waste from other waste to feed local pigs. Happe said all schools would be part of the Pig Program starting this fall.

In other business, the board:
•Approved two $500.00 donations, one from Dan Olson/State Farm Insurance and one from Central Minnesota Orthodontics for the middle school’s student planners. The district has received over $61,000 in donations so far this year.
•Approved the district’s goals for 2015-2020. The goals remain largely unchanged from the current goals, with the addition of adding the goal of hiring exceptional staff.
•Approved a change to the high school’s dress code, which specifies a minimum of a four-inch sleeve for all students. High school leadership said they hope this change will make the rule of no sleeveless shirts more clear for students.
•Approved the addition of the following staff: .6 staff to the ALP staff due to increasing enrollment, one kindergarten teachers for Pinewood Elementary due to the new free all-day kindergarten program, one full-time custodian for the high school/Eastview and Pinewood Elementary. This custodian will spend two hours per day to cover the new lunch sections in the east cafeteria and the remainder of the time at Eastview.
The next board meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug 20 in the middle school boardroom.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.