Lunch program participation on the rise; changes proposed

Lunch program participation on the rise; changes proposed by M. Jill Karolevitz Nearly 1,000 students per day are participating in the Lunchtime Solutions food service program in the Vermillion School District, and it�s Amy Lundgren�s goal to maintain that momentum.

Lundgren, manager of the Vermillion program for Lunchtime Solutions, reported to the Vermillion School Board June 11.

�We had an average participation rate of 973 per day this year,� she said. �That far exceeded our goal and we want to maintain that level for the coming year.�

Lundgren is tenacious in her management � she and her staff monitor students� likes and dislikes closely and plan menus accordingly.

�Menus are developed from student preference,� Lundgren said. �Food is only nutritional if it�s eaten. It does no good when it�s thrown away.

�Some parents have mentioned to me that our program is so different from the school lunches they remember,� she continued. �They remember things like casseroles, and I�ve tried that, but you can�t imagine how much is in the garbage can. Students prefer different foods now.�

Along with student preferences, Lundgren also has to work within the nutritional guidelines spelled out by the USDA, along with available commodities when planning meals.

�It becomes a real balancing act,� she said.

As Lundgren reacts to participation levels and makes changes as a result, she has seen a positive outcome.

In 1998-99, before Lunchtime Solutions started, participation was at 57 percent. Lunchtime Solutions came in 1999-2000 and participation increased to 63 percent. This year it�s up to 71 percent.

�We�re very proud of that,� Lundgren said. �That shows us the students like the program.

�Participation is key to the district,� she added. �If students are eating, that benefits both the district and food service program.�

As she looks to the 2001-02 school year, Lundgren has developed several strategies:

? Continue to offer at least five entree choices at the high school and middle school, including traditional school lunch;

? Continue to offer yogurt as an alternative entree choice at Jolley and Austin;

? Investigate and try new products and menus that provide meal variety and product quality as perceived by the students.

In addition, Lundgren told the school board that prices will need to be changed for the upcoming year. She cited several reasons, including rising food costs and labor costs.

The proposed prices are: Elementary and secondary breakfasts, 80 to 90 cents a meal; adult breakfasts, 80 cents to $1; K-5 lunches, $1.70 to $1.80; 6-12 lunches, $1.80 to $1.90; adult lunches, $2.15 to $2.25.

Reduced price breakfast and lunch costs will remain the same, as will the cost of extra milk.

Although the information was taken into consideration, no action was taken by the school board at this time on Lundgren�s price proposal.

Earlier this year, Lundgren also outlined a new policy regarding lunch accounts due to new point of sale software that will be used for the first time this fall.

�We will have student accounts rather than family accounts,� she said. �And it will be a true benefit to the students because they�ll see their own individual account balance.�

Lundgren said it will be less confusing to some students who may have been sharing an account balance with several brothers and sisters.

�Plus, this gives students more responsibility to manage their own accounts,� she said. �It�s a great benefit.�

The new lunch account policy, approved June 11 by the school board, includes several important changes:

? Lunch money must be received and deposited at each individual student�s school.

? Separate checks must be written for each student in the family (unless students attend the same school and the amount to be designated into each individual account is clearly written on the check).

? No statements will be mailed.

? �Low balance� warnings will be given at the high school and middle school whenever a student�s individual account is $10 or below, with reminders to follow. Once a student has an account that is too low to make a purchase, they will be given a written/verbal reminder to bring lunch money and their account will be closed. They will be offered an �alternative meal� of a peanut butter sandwich and milk.

? Statements will not be sent home with high school or middle school students.

? �Low balance� warnings will also be given at Austin and Jolley schools whenever a student�s individual account is at $8 or below. Several reminders will also be given to the students over a period of three days, and the cashier will offer to stamp the student�s hand as a reminder.

�This is just another way to help keep parents reminded of their elementary student�s account balance,� Lundgren said. �The hand stamping is not mandatory. It�s just something fun to help kids remember. And we�ll stamp the hand of any student who asks for it, regardless if they have a low lunch account balance or not.�

? By the fourth day, if the elementary student�s account balance is too low, the student will not be able to purchase a meal. An �alternative meal� of a peanut butter sandwich and milk will be offered.

? Students with a balance that is too low to purchase a regular meal cannot eat the regular meal until money is put into their lunch account. They can receive the alternative meal a maximum of 10 times during the school year.

? Statements for elementary students with a low or zero balance will be sent home each Tuesday and Friday. Parents should check their student�s backpacks on these days.

? No statements will be mailed.

? Balances cannot go below $0.

? Parents and/or students can check their account balance by calling the food service bookkeeper at 677-7032.

? Students will be allowed to bring cash and purchase a reimbursable meal until the account is re-opened. Cash payments for a la carte items will not be allowed if there is a zero balance in the student account.

? After 30 days of any negative balance, collection procedures will be initiated on all negative balance accounts.

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