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An Overview Provided on Chelmsford School Lunches

April Lasky and her presentation (credit: Anne-Marie Fiore)
April Lasky and her presentation (credit: Anne-Marie Fiore)

Part One of a transcript from the Jan. 21, 2014 Chelmsford School Committee meeting. For the full meeting, click here. 

7:00 p.m.

The consent agenda and sets of minutes were approved, followed by an update from student representatives.

Superintendent Dr. Frank Tiano shared that the School Department and in particular, Anne-Marie Fiore, has won an award from Extreme Networks, formerly Enterasys.

The criteria for the award involve finding a district that encourage 24x7 learning, facilitating individual technological instruction, and encouraging curricular growth.

7:08 p.m.

School Committee chairman Mike Rigney announced that Kristan Rodriguez has been named as the new superintendent for the Groton-Dunstable school district.

7:09 p.m.

Public comment was delayed so announcements to the Chelmsford High School Athletic Hall of Fame could be shared.

This year is the 24th annual induction into the Hall of Fame.

7:15 p.m.

Denise Bouchet of Hornbeam Road talked to the board regarding negative social media regarding the school lunch program.

She’s the head of the school food services program in Arlington.

Her children are excited about getting fruits and vegetables in school at the Center School.

She also sees positive advancements like the Meal Magic program.

Ultimately, she appreciated the work the School Committee had done and hoped everyone could move forward together.

April Iles of Purcell Drive, a parent of a child at the Byam School and the school food service director in Newton, also spoke positively of the food service program in Chelmsford schools.

Melissa Williams of Robin Hill Road asked for an update on the status of the Wellness Policy. She had submitted a letter on Nov. 13 and attended a meeting in December. She is concerned with the lack of transparency regarding what constitutes the lack of recess.

She was also concerned over what actions were being taken to protect recesses being taken away and said many other nearby towns protected recess.

Wiliams was once an educator in Chelmsford and understood there were times a student shouldn’t go out to recess due to an incident just before recess, but that the students should get a recess once they calm down or be kept near a recess monitor.

7:30 p.m.

April Lasky, Chelmsford’s food service director, gave a presentation.

She began with federal regulations that give guidance over what meals should be given and nutritional regulations, and that Chelmsford is currently under compliance.

The current focus is reducing sodium, which does not have a federal guideline, but there is a look at lowering sodium before the guidelines come into place next school year.

Lasky said that all districts across the country are struggling to meet goals. The goals here in Chelmsford range from 1,230 milligrams per day for Elementary Schools to 1,420 milligrams at Chelmsford High School.

School Committee member Nick DiSilvio asked if sodium was used as a preservative, Lasky said sometimes, but also that there were times that it was naturally occurring.

Lasky said that the state requirements are the toughest in the country and they only apply to a la carte items, such as vending machines.

The next item was the cost of lunch. Currently it costs $2.40 at the elementary school level for lunch, with expenses currently at $2.23, with $1.20 going to labor costs.

Students are currently required to take at least three of five required components of a school lunch, with students who are lactose intolerant not being required to consume dairy products, one of those required components.

Proteins and grains were once components, but now there is flexibility in those areas.

Preferred Meals, a private company, provides meals that cost $1.92 each, with Lasky saying that they remain the best solution for Chelmsford Schools and a garden salad will be introduced in January.

Immediate needs in the food service department include refrigeration

7:45 p.m.

Long term goals include full-service kitchens in the schools, although with long term and short term goals, what is important is looking a staffing levels, and Lasky feels she is not ready to share plans on that information.

Currently 34.15 percent of students participate in school lunches, a jump from 24.20 percent in October 2012.

School Committee member Barbara Skaar was very impressed given the amount of rules that are in place.

DiSilvio asked about an audit and saying that food service has come a long way since then.

DiSilvio then talked about two pieces of food service equipment that will be voted upon at town meeting.

Lasky said that Preferred Meals owns some of the equipment inside Chelmsford Public Schools.

Chairman Mike Rigney asked about feedback from students, with Lasky saying often the students gave direct in-person feedback.

Rigney also asked who the schools did business with, Lasky said that Preferred Meals was the only company for packaged meals, but the schools did business with many local businesses such as Sal’s Pizza.

8:00 p.m.

Rigney also asked about how bids are made, Lasky explained that the process goes through a collaborative bid process with 72 other districts, focused largely on nutritional guidelines

Currently the district is moving away from chicken nuggets and toward chicken tenders. There was more discussion over the amount of sodium in products and the future of how much sodium will be in products.

DiSilvio asked Lasky to walk him through the process of the planning for the garden salad program and other possible enhancements to the menu.

Lasky discussed her work with Preferred Meals, saying that there were various obstacles such as retrofitted boxes for ingredients such as chicken and lettuce, but that Preferred Meals often used Chelmsford as an example for other districts on how to implement new items.

She discussed other things, such as scheduling meals on certain days to ensure that fresh ingredients were used as well as separating certain sauces to meet student tastes.

Skaar asked about food service policies in other districts as well as the bid process that led to Preferred Meals getting the contract. Lasky said Preferred Meals became the provider before she became food service director

Rigney asked questions made comments regarding the long-term goals of full-service on-site kitchens, with Lasky saying that parents want this eventually.

Lasky added that the requests for refrigeration units were predicated on that goal.

Rigney continued to elaborate on the expectation of self-sufficiency of the school lunch program, with Lasky saying that it may be a few years before the program goes back into black due to the unexpected loss of vending machines, although losses this year would not be as bad as last year.

DiSilvio agreed with Lasky that the district was not prepared for the unexpected loss of vending machines and then asked if there was a formula on how to get to breaking even.

Lasky said it was difficult to calculate due to things like benefits for employees, and it was unsure what participation rate would bring the school lunch program to breaking even, with the loss of soda and candy harming profits not just for food service but the DECA program.

The impact for the loss of soda for food service was $110,000.

8:15 p.m.

Rigney thanked Lasky for her time.

DiSilvio said that a path was needed for the food department’s goals on things like self-sufficiency.

Rigney said that more insight was needed on revenue and that some resources may need to be directed to bring in more revenue.

Rigney and DiSilvio had more discussion over school lunch prices. Lasky said that under new federal requirements, pricing of lunches are also something that needs to be taken into account. Chelmsford meets the guidelines and that a la carte items are not included in those requirements.

In the non a la carte items, the focus was on what is reimbursable.

8:25 p.m.

The agenda advanced to evaluation of Superintendent Dr. Frank Tiano’s performance and how he was advancing against the goals set for him this year.

Tiano asked school committee members to take some materials home and review them related to the goals.

He said that educators also provide similar updates to him on the accomplishment of their goals.

Tiano then said he’d add additional information in April.

8:32 p.m.

Rigney and DiSilvio then discussed the school committee meeting calendar over the next few weeks prior to town meeting.

A reorganization meeting will take place for the committee on the day after town elections on April 1.

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