At an uproarious meeting nearly a month ago, the Sag Harbor School Board broached the subject of suspending the food program. The board cited previous deficits and current difficulties in collecting outstanding bills as part of their motivation to explore other cafeteria options or scrapping the program altogether. Some parents argued that the issue required further vetting from students, parents, administrators and other stakeholders; and a cafeteria committee was subsequently established to explore alternatives.
On Monday, June 21, the food issue was discussed once again, though the board made no formal resolution. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto noted that the cafeteria committee has already met twice and will likely return to the board on August 2 with a final recommendation. The committee, said Dr. Gratto, explored many possibilities to make the cafeteria program solvent, including better accounting practices and buying products more efficiently. Other ideas included establishing more vending machines or offering pre-packaged foods for athletes.
“I am more optimistic,” said school business official Janet Verneuille, who is also a member of the committee, about the program’s financials. She is still working on retrieving around $20,000 owed to the school for food items, which students purchase on a type of charge card.
“It is in the district’s best interest to collect that money as quickly as possible so that we can ascertain if any of it is uncollectible,” Verneuille added during a later interview. “My preliminary [analysis] is that the cafeteria program would actually be in the black if we had collected properly. That gives me hope.”
Verneuille is working to close the school’s accounting books before July, but doesn’t have final numbers on the cafeteria program’s financial standing.
A 2008-2009 audit report showed that the food service program cost $215,631 to run and brought in $171,614 in revenue and received $21,981 in grants. At the end of school in 2009, the overall deficit was $89,827. Verneuille, however, pointed out that this shortfall was withdrawn from the fund balance at the end of that fiscal year.
Uncollected monies isn’t the only issue plaguing the program. Verneuille also pointed out that the kitchen’s hot plate requires a hood. Without installing this piece of equipment, the kitchen staff may no longer legally be allowed to use the hot plate and may be able to serve only cold meals, said Verneuille. This issue, she noted, requires further exploration. School board president Walter Wilcoxen said in an interview that he personally wasn’t in favor of making further equipment investments.
Verneuille added that the cafeteria needs a different kind of software to more efficiently serve the students’ needs. She noted the software, which ranges in cost from $3,000 to $5,000, would allow parents to regularly check which items their children are purchasing and how much credit is left in their accounts.
Dr. Gratto believed the board would be able to render a decision on whether or not to suspend the food program by August 2. Wilcoxen, however, seemed certain a final report would be presented at this meeting but wasn’t sure the board will be prepared to make a final assessment.
In addition to discussing the cafeteria program, facilities and athletics supervisor Montgomery Granger highlighted this year’s nutrition and wellness committee report. He reported that each month students receive a power point presentation on health issues. The topics previously addressed included hand washing, H1N1, foods from around the world, sleep, exercise, anatomy and care of the eye, anatomy and care of the ear, sun safety and prevention of Lyme disease.