Change may be coming to District 91’s food service program for the 2015-16 academic year. Edward Brophy, assistant superintendent of operations, explained the possible alterations at the school board’s June 11 meeting.
Asked why D91 is exploring modifications for this upcoming school year, Brophy told the Review, “School districts that publicly bid their food service are required to do so every five years. … District 91 chose to go to bid a year earlier than is required, based on feedback from students and parents inquiring about possible changes that could improve the quality of the program.” The district’s current program has been in place since the 2011-12 academic year.
Currently, D91 serves daily pre-packaged meals, which contain processed ingredients, at all of its schools. For some time, Brophy has investigated refining the program to include healthier options and fresher ingredients. He has met with food service personnel at each school and even traveled to a school in Lemont to observe their midday program.
“We want to produce menus that balance the nutritional requirements [of the National School Lunch Program] and introduce some new items that kids will like, and use student feedback to make consistent improvements to our menus. We also want our students to understand why making good meal choices is important to their current and long-term health,” Brophy told the Review in an email.
The Illinois State Board of Education requires that all public school districts provide a lunch to all students. These programs, which can include hot or cold meals, are free to eligible students.
If D91 opts to use the new program, main entrees would arrive one day prior to serving, be refrigerated on site overnight and then be reheated shortly before mealtime.
“We don’t have a single facility in this district that can prepare meals start to finish,” Brophy said. Fresh salad bar ingredients would be delivered daily.
After reminding board members that a “change in [the food service] format is going to require an investment in resources and if we are changing the way the food is being prepared and how it is being served, then that comes at a cost,” Brophy presented a “very, very preliminary” report on the proposed program’s price.
The program, he estimated, would cost 20% more than the district’s current service. Instituting the changes would require D91 to spend around $40,000 more per year with increases in personnel, meal, and equipment costs.
As a tradeoff to the rise in cost, Brophy pointed to the success of other programs in districts across the U.S. in places like California, New York and Wisconsin. “Some of the reports,” he said, “talk about how the kids can concentrate better because they are not consuming food that is high in sugar and starch.”
The board unanimously approved Brophy’s request to initiate the bidding process for the new program. For now, the district will continue to explore pursuing these changes. However, the board still could reject all bids and decide to maintain the current program.
Regardless of the board’s final decision, Superintendent Louis Cavallo told attendees, “We are basing all this on cost to families remaining the same.”