School dis­trict food ser­vice goes healthy, loses money

The Ambler Gazette - - OPINION - By Linda Finarelli

A de­tailed pre­sen­ta­tion on how the Up­per Dublin School Dis­trict Food Ser­vice is far­ing in its at­tempt to serve more healthy foods dom­i­nated the school board’s Sept. 10 meet­ing.

In Au­gust 2011, the board ap­proved new well­ness reg­u­la­tions and in De­cem­ber of last year passed ad­min­is­tra­tive guide­lines aimed at adding nu­tri­tional choices to the school menus and elim­i­nat­ing in­gre­di­ents on a 15-item “avoid list” such as trans fats, sodium and ar­ti­fi­cial col­or­ing. A Nu­tri­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee was set up to help ac­com­plish the task, with four ci­ti­zen mem­bers ap­pointed by the board Mon­day night.

Last year, changes to the menu were made in prepa­ra­tion of the fed­eral Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which re­sulted in lim­it­ing menu choices and in­tro­duc­ing a num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties to teach the chil­dren in the dis­trict schools about proper nu­tri­tion. The food ser­vice even launched a Wik­ispace page on the of­fer­ings and nu­tri­tion and has started a Face­book page.

Un­der the fed­eral act, which must be fol­lowed in or­der to get re­im­burse­ments for the free and re­duced lunches, a fruit or veg­etable must be part of ev­ery meal. In ad­di­tion to closely mon­i­tor­ing the in­gre­di­ents in ev­ery item of­fered to con­form to the fed­eral guide­lines, food ser­vice needs to try to of­fer menu choices the students will ac­tu­ally want to buy.

The changes re­duced the num­ber of à la carte items, as well. Of 95 snack items avail­able through one dis­tributer, only 28 would meet the dis­trict’s in­gre­di­ent spec­i­fi­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to data pre­sented. The size of the of­fer­ings has also been re­duced for some items, which is an­other draw­back, par­tic­u­larly at the sec­ondary level, dis­trict of­fi­cials said.

“It’s a com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion the food ser­vice is in,” said dis­trict Food Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Patti Dell’Aringa.

As a re­sult of the menu changes, sales were down last year, dis­trict Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brenda Bray said. In ad­di­tion, some staff changes and an in­crease in the re­tire­ment rate and salaries.

Food ser­vice rev­enues for last year were down $100,000 from the prior year. Fig­ures pre­sented showed a loss of $151,121 for the year end­ing June 30, 2012, com­pared to a loss of $25,589 for the year end­ing June 2011.

“The big loss was à la carte items last year,” Bray said. “When there is more de­mand, there will be bet­ter cost. It’s a slow process; it’s go­ing to take time.”

Money from the gen­eral fund will have to be trans­ferred to the food ser­vice fund, which is sep­a­rate, to make up for the loss, she said.

The only bright spot, ac­cord­ing to the data pre­sented, was of­fer­ing sushi last year, which proved very pop­u­lar at the high school.

“It’s a lot more com­pli­cated than it ap­pears,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Michael Pladus said. “If we spent as much on sup­plies as we did in pre­vi­ous years, the bot­tom line would have looked worse.”

Dell’Aringa said the food ser­vice is hop­ing to cut its losses this year through a part­ner­ship in which it is sup­ply­ing meals to students at Our Lady of Mercy and a pos­si­ble vend­ing pro­gram of­fer­ing healthy snacks.

Board Vice Pres­i­dent Deb­bie Men­del­son asked Dell’Aringa if the students had been asked what they wanted to eat.

“That’s some­thing we need to do,” Dell’Aringa said. “We want to get the students to ‘like’ us on Face­book, and then we would get an­swers to some of our ques­tions im­me­di­ately.”

A few par­ents were not com­pletely sat­is­fied with the nu­tri­tional at­tempts made thus far. One asked why high fruc­tose corn syrup was not on the avoid list. An­other sug­gested avoid list items should not be in any of the food of­fer­ings.

“This is not about profit; it’s about do­ing what’s right for our chil­dren,” one par­ent said.

On the other hand, res­i­dent Anita Bris­ter said, “As a tax­payer I am con­cerned about cost. I do want the board to be look­ing at the bot­tom line.”

The chal­lenge, Pladus said, is “to pro­mote bet­ter nu­tri­tion but pay at­ten­tion to our bot­tom line.”

Pat­tie Moor speaks with state Rep. Tom Murt, R-152, dur­ing the Leg­isla­tive Sum­mer Fun Night in Franklin Park in Maple Glen. Nancy Wil­liams, right, chief of staff for state Rep. Tom Murt, and Kim Coul­ton help Luke Hamill to some wa­ter ice dur­ing a...

Gazette staff pho­tos by BOB RAINES

Al­lie DeMichele waits to catch a wa­ter bal­loon dur­ing a Leg­isla­tive Sum­mer Fun Night held by state Rep. Tom Murt, R-152, at Franklin Park in Maple Glen.

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