Niskayuna schools drop federal lunch regulations

District: Students balk at meals; participation down as food waste up

— Wixom said an “outcry” from students and parents spurred the decision to change to the old order.

“They were eating healthy and they weren’t hungry,” she said.

The district must wait 60 days as its application is reviewed before reverting to former lunch offerings. Parents must be notified of the change by the district if it proceeds.

“I think what’s happened is the policy has kind of gotten ahead of where the vendors are in terms of trying to provide foods that are readily available to make as part of regular lunch options for students,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Matthew Bourgeois.

There is a cost to the district for opting out. It won’t receive reimbursement for Type A lunches, which this year is estimated to total around $150,000 in state and federal aid. Since that is based on participation though, last school year’s aid was higher, around $225,000 to $250,000, Bourgeois said.

Wixom said the district tried to make some changes to its menus and students were responding positively, but students were still forced to take a fruit or vegetable for the meal to be reimbursed.

“A lot of that is just going in the trash,” Wixom said. “They were willingly taking them last year.”

Lunch prices are not planned to increase despite the loss of the aid because district officials are hoping increased participation will make up the difference.

A breakfast meal costs $1.50 and lunch is $2.75 for elementary students. In $3 in middle and high schools the prices are $3 and $3.25. If a child qualifies, a reduced price of 25 cents for breakfast and 25 cents for lunch is offered.

Despite lower participation when compared to last year, participation has been picking up in the 2012-13 school year. In September, approximately 772 students, or 18 percent, purchased lunch district wide on a given day. That increased to 1,102 students, or 25 percent, in December.

Food services employees were cut to reduce costs, along with working with vendors and increasing the amount of bids for contracts, but costs still could not be contained.

“We did really try very hard to follow the guidelines and the state recognized that,” Wixom said, “but they’re seeing that it is not just our district that is having problems, it is all over.”

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