By Ellen Frankman
At Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting, a presentation by school business administrator John O’Keefe offered a closer look at the effects of the USDA changes to the school lunch program.
The changes, which went into effect July 1 of last year, were the result of “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” The new nutrition standards mandate that fruits and vegetables must be available at every meal, that schools no longer offer full-fat milk, and that calories are limited based on a child’s age to ensure proper portion size.
The requirements swung into full effect at Pierson Middle-High School last year. The school has begun providing grains that are exclusively whole wheat, including in pizza dough, pasta and bread, exceeding the federal requirement that 50 percent of grains be whole wheat.
The Pierson cafeteria management has also cut down on portion size, per USDA recommendations. The cafeteria switched from a three-ounce roll to a two-ounce roll and now offers two ounces of turkey on a sandwich rather than three.
The school has already faced some push back relating to portion size. O’Keefe explained that even the older students are technically only allotted a slider’s-size portion of protein during their lunch, which is often not sufficient.
“I know the idea was to cut down on obesity, but some of the regulations seem a little too stringent,” said O’Keefe.
The guidelines also require the cafeteria to provide a greater array of vegetables, divided into categories such as “red and orange” and “dark green leafy.”
“Things like our salad bar have been very helpful in helping us to offer the variety,” said O’Keefe.
O’Keefe also reported that Pierson was deemed in compliance with the Child Nutrition Programs by the State Education Department and therefore eligible for the “six cents certification.” Under “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” a reimbursement of six cents per lunch is available for school food authorities certified to be successfully adhering to the new school meal patterns.
A look at the Pierson cafeteria budget for September 2012 to June 2013 revealed a net loss of just over $7,700, despite the fact that expenditures were down nearly 3.5 percent from the year prior. More than $133,000 in revenue is generated for the cafeteria by students choosing a la carte lunch options, while the cafeteria profited just over $19,000 from the “full lunch” option.
“On an average day about 50 kids get the actual lunch,” said O’Keefe. “The majority of kids are buying a la carte. We have over 500 children in the building and a very small proportion are using the cafeteria for the full lunch.”
Board member Mary Ann Miller recommended that the school evaluate the number of kids who are buying from the cafeteria at all, whether it is a bottle of water or a bagel.
“In any of the reports from high functioning food service programs, they know the average number of students that use their program,” said Miller.
“The things that kids want, like Pop-tarts are no longer being sold,” pointed out board member Sandi Kruel. Kruel explained that revenue losses were to be expected in any period of adjustment in which the offerings of the cafeteria were significantly changed.
In addition to assessing an updated report from the cafeteria, Monday’s school board meeting also approved the appointment of Brittany Miaritis as the Middle School assistant principal. While a majority carried the vote, board members David Diskin, Daniel Hartnett and Mary Anne Miller voted against the appointment.
However, board member Chris Tice assured Miaritis and those in attendance at the meeting that it was unanimously decided in the past that the position needed to be filled and that Miaritis was exceptionally qualified for the position.
“School staff, community members, and administrators involved in the interview process at every level were impressed by her professionalism, pride, and passion,” said Nichols.
Miaritis comes to Pierson after having served six years as a learning specialist, special education teacher support provider and coordinator at the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies.
“We are so excited to have a new member of our leadership team,” said interim school superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso. “It’s what we wanted. Someone who had a passion for the middle level and experience at the middle level.”