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New regulations complicate school lunch program
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The school lunch program is becoming a lot more complicated the North Crawford School Board learned from the school’s food service director at their meeting last Thursday.

Kay Teague, who runs the school’s lunch program, presented a report outlining changes in federal rules designed to improve the nutritional value of school lunch’s, while limiting caloric intake. Teague attended a meeting about the new rules with food service directors from 200 other school districts recently.

After the new rules were explained to the food service directors in attendance, many were heard to say, “I wish I could retire this year,” according to Teague.

The food service director told board membersthat the schools would be changing the lunch program a lot in the coming year. Teague said she must prepare worksheets to create menus for the various grade levels. After those menus have been accomplished and the federal government has approved them, they will back pay the district six cents for every meal.

Among the changes are calorie requirements for different grade levels. The lunch for grades K-5 is established at 550 to 650 calories. The level for grade six through eight is capped at 700 calories and the level for high school students in 900 calories.

Not only are there calorie levels that the serving put on every tray must meet, there are also a host of nutritional requirements. Teague must have three quarters to one cup of green vegetables in the meal as well as another measure of orange vegetables an another measurement of fruit. Meat servings are two ounces per meal.

Another problem with the new requirements is that the federal commodities available to school districts will be hard to fit into the menus the federal government is now requiring.

“What they (the USDA) offer is not what they want you to use,” Teague said in commenting on the available federal commodities.

“You can’t get fresh fruit, right?” board president Mary Kuhn said to Teague, who confirmed that there was no fresh fruit offered as a federal commodity.

Board member Mike Bedessem again recalled a conversation he had with the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan when she visited Organic Valley, where Bedessem serves as the co-operative’s chief financial officer. Bedessem asked Merrigan if the USDA did not trust local school districts to run their own lunch programs well and the deputy secretary of agriculture responded that the department did not trust local school districts to run lunch programs.

Bedessem explained the lunch program at North Crawford to Merrigan.

“If you have a good food service program you’re an exception,” Bedessem remembered Merrigan saying. He characterized the department as having a presumption that districts are doing a poor job with the lunch program.

One concern voiced by North Crawford District Administrator Dr. Dan Davies is that with school’s large number of students qualifying for free and reduced meals not all students were getting enough to eat at home.

“In some cases, it might be the only meal they’re getting,” Davies said.

Teague confirmed that some students suffered from conditions at home. She noted that the staff sees a certain number of students very hungry on Mondays.

Board members questioned how limiting calories in the lunches would work for students with limited food resources at home.

Teague indicated the hunger problem was exacerbated by federal rules that eliminate the shared table. At some schools students not wishing to eat certain food could leave at a table where other students could access it. This is not allowed under the new stricter federal guidelines.

North Crawford used a large tub with ice in it for students to deposit unwanted milk that other students could retrieve. This practice will not be in place this year, because it has been prohibited by the shared table rule.

Teague has witnessed students looking in the barrel and at times there was no milk.

In speaking to poverty rate and hunger problem, the food service director said she had looked into starting a backpack program here. She had contact with Second Harvest a food relief agency, which already assists the local food pantry.

The backpack program sends children at-risk of hunger home on Fridays with a loaf of bread, a jar of  peanut butter and other food.

In answer to a board question, Teague said the Backpack program was not a federal program.

“It sounds like a great program,” Bedessem said after Teague had explained the backpack program.

While board president Mary Kuhn acknowledged at one point the policy might be necessary to address childhood obesity, she noted at another point the 900-calorie limit probably wasn’t appropriate for an active 16-year-old boy.

It was noted that an athlete, eating only the school lunch and breakfast, would have only consumed 1,100 to 1,200 calories going into two hours of after school practice.

The importance of following federal rule in the lunch program was demonstrated when North Crawford bookkeeper Donna Bell answered questions about the school lunch program.

Bell told the board the district had budgeted for a $13,000 deficit in the program, including the purchase of some equipment, and the current deficit was about $10,000. In total $268,000 was spent on the lunch program and that included $187,000 in federal assistance and $7,000 in state assistance.

The school calendar was approved as presented with one notable change the graduation date was changed to June 1 from a date early in May during the Memorial Day weekend.

Kuhn moved to make the change noting the problem with holding classes after seniors graduate with the juniors and other underclassmen.

Following a closed session meeting to discuss the recommendation for hiring a first grade teacher, the board reconvened in open session and approved hiring Kyle Oldenburg to fill the position. Oldenburg is a North Crawford alumni.

In other business, the North Crawford School Board:

• began the meeting by hearing a report on the Spanish class trip to Puerto Rico

• agreed to raise prices on season tickets by $5 for individuals (making it $10 for students and $20 for adults) and $10 for families (making it $40 per family)

• approved a 66.0301 between the North Crawford and Seneca for autism

• approved an athletic department request summer football practice helmet use (required by the WIAA)

•  renewed a contract with CESA 6 for web page work