Lunch rules criticized by Milford School Board

MILFORD – Two School Board members railed against the federal government’s school lunch program last week after taking action to deal with a deficit in the Milford program.

“This is the annual bailout of the failed Washington, D.C., program,” Len Mannino said, “and we’re stuck with it. If it was a business, it would be out of business.”

With fewer and fewer children buying lunches, he said, “We are stuck in a nightmare that won’t go away.”

The Milford program was once self-funding, and board Chairman Ron Carvell said it’s unfortunate taxpayers now have to pay for it. Changes to federal regulations are coming, but coming slowly, he said.

The board voted to authorize fund transfers of a total of $21,000 with the aim of not raising lunch prices, which could lead to fewer lunches purchased.

Some of that money is to cover unpaid debts caused by parents who apparently can’t afford to pay, yet won’t sign up for the free and reduced lunch program.

Business Administrator Jennifer Burk urged anyone who has children in school and who can’t afford to buy them lunch to fill out the paperwork for the confidential free and reduced breakfast and lunch program. The cost is paid by the government, not Milford taxpayers. Milford gets about $225,000 yearly, and would get more if more parents would sign up.

The policy is to not penalize the children and to feed all who want breakfast and lunch, Burk said.

“Everybody eats,” she said.

The board also approved a plan to restructure food service management to make the program more economical. Burk said it could mean $65,000 in saving over the next two years, without laying anyone off.

Milford schools are part of the National School Lunch Program, overseen by the Department of Agriculture, which provides commodity foods and cash reimbursement for each meal served.

The Trump administration is working to modify nutrition regulations that were part of the Obama administration’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required schools to reduce the calories, fat and sodium in their cafeterias and to increase offerings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonfat milk.

Beginning next school year, schools can request an exemption from the whole grain requirements and delay the sodium mandate. They will also be able to serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of nonfat.

Board member Jennifer Siegrist noted that the quality of foods served in Milford cafeterias has improved in recent years.

Mannino suggested people send letters to Washington asking for relief “from this train wreck of a lunch program” that isn’t working in “thousands of districts across the country.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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