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D161: Officials review school lunch program’s future

The prospect of losing the opportunity for federal reimbursement loomed over the Summit Hill Board of Education at their April 12 meeting, as officials weighed in on low student participation in the lunch program and actions the district should take moving forward.

“The bottom line is the vision of our current lunch program [and] the vision of the National School Lunch Program [are] very different,” Superintendent Barb Rains said.

The lunches provided at Summit Hill schools are prepared by Quest Food Management through an agreement formed with Union School District 81 in Joliet. In November, the program was reviewed for compliance to National School Lunch Program requirements. That audit is performed once every three years.

“The result of that was findings that were mostly easily correctable,” Director of Business and Transportation Doug Wiley said, noting that the reviewer still raised some concerns that could not be addressed through corrective action through the administrative review. “We chose to run those through their complaint process. Really, the focus of those issues were why the participation in our program was low, even among the free and reduced.”

Rains said the district had tried to cater the program to the entire population, but it didn’t work. Wiley said the district has many students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch but choose not to. To date, there are 210 students participating in the program.

“The crux of this is the fact that we’re trying to provide lunch to the folks who need it, whereas the National School Lunch Program is more interested in providing school lunch to the entire population, which is not something we can accommodate,” Wiley said.

Wiley said if the board does nothing to align the program to fit the spirit of the National School Lunch Program, the district could lose more than $20,000.

The Illinois State Board of Education offered a number of suggestions to Summit Hill to gauge why participation is limited. This includes efforts to offer families the added option to purchase lunch daily rather than one month at a time, open up test tastings, and conduct parent surveys both from the free and general lunch population.

Wiley said officials will need to determine if they wish to stay in the program.

“The only part that would be changed if we left the program was we wouldn’t get the federal reimbursement for those lunches,” Wiley said. “We’d still get the direct certification list. People would still apply at the beginning of the year for free lunch if they’re interested and those sorts of things.”

The healthy food requirements would need to remain in place.

Wiley said the district could choose to run a more robust lunch service, but that would require additional staffing they don’t currently have.

Board President Rich Marron negated the idea saying there are a number of variables at play.

“We’re not going to stop going through Union, [with whom] we have the intergovernmental agreement,” Marron said. “We can’t manage this on our own because the guidelines are too restrictive. You have to [have] a specialized kitchen to work within them. We can’t do this daily, because we’d have to hire a full-time person, and we’d end up losing money.”

“The question is, really, if we do some taste testing and a survey, is that enough to make this go away?” Marron asked, noting that the reviewer could continue to have concerns. “Then, I think the answer is there for us.”

Summit Hill officials came to a consensus that nothing is changing on the front end with the lunch program. The difference is that the district may not seek reimbursement.

Budgets items discussed

Summit Hill officials also took a look at the district’s proposed budgets for technology and operations and maintenance.

Wiley presented to the board a proposed technology budget, excluding salaries and benefits, accounting for nearly $700,000 in expenditures.

Spending includes plans to employ 234 student tablets, along with contractual services for access points.

“That’s half of what was proposed,” Wiley said. “Once we have the budget fully compiled, we can determine if there’s room to include more tablets.”

This year, Summit Hill purchased 729 tablets.

“That leaves us roughly 650 tablets short for the district,” Wiley said.

Other items highlighted in the technology budget include three copy machines and two intercom system replacements.

To get the tablets and access points ready for the 2017-2018 academic year, school district officials intend to take board action at the next regular meeting to ensure that work is performed during the summer.

Summit Hill officials said they still have five years before they’ll start needing to budget for replacement tablets.

As for the district’s operations and maintenance budget, school officials identified two main projects that they’ve wrapped up, including roof improvements at Dr. Julian Rogus School and a condenser unit at Hilda Walker School.

“They’re done, they’re on track to start [when] school gets out,” Wiley said.

Other projects the district is considering include replacement of windows at Arbury Hills School and tiles at Indian Trail School.

The board will consider the adoption of budgets for technology and operations and maintenance at its April 26 meeting.

Summit Hill officials approve supplemental busing program

The Summit Hill Board of Education authorized a supplemental busing plan for students who live within 1.5 miles of their school and do not cross a hazardous road as defined and certified by the State.

Those interested will be subject to a set of guidelines requiring registration and a fee of $250 per student per school year. That assessed fee can be waived or altered for individuals who demonstrate hardship.

“[We’re] not adding bus routes, because increased bus routes will lead to direct cost to the district that we then can’t recover,” Marron said. “This way, at least we’ll have the same cost; we just won’t be able to recover some of which we otherwise would be able to.”

Bus stops will be established prior to the consideration of supplemental bus riders, at which point only the superintendent or a designee will have authority to add stops.

Supplemental bus riders will be taken on a first come, first served basis.

“There’s room to add a number of riders without having problems,” Marron said, noting that it will be possible for the district to absorb the costs.

The program, as approved, goes into effect at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year, and the measure will require reauthorization moving forward.

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