Members of the Hamilton R-II Board of Education met last Wednesday night on the cusp of a new school year to okay a few new staff members and substitutes. They also set the annual tax levy and grumbled a bit about First Lady Michelle Obama’s new “Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act” and the impact it will have on what students will have on their lunch menus.
Before approving the new tax levy, Superintendent Troy Ford went over the complicated factors that figured into the levy, including the last pipeline construction. When it all boiled down, the new tax levy is three cents lower than last year’s, with the new figure at $4.7291.
In explaining the new school lunch guidelines to board members Supt. Ford explained that the serving sizes for lunches are now divided in two segments, with one being for kindergarten through eighth grade and a second portion size for ninth through 12th grade. That news caused an outcry from the members, some of whom insist that an eighth grader is going to require a lot more food for fuel than a kindergartner.
The members and staffers are also not happy about no longer being able to serve cake or cookies, or about the fact that the new program will result in surprise visits by federal employees who will monitor how well the district follows the guidelines.
“Smaller schools that don’t have contracted food services are really going to struggle with meal planning,” worries Ford. Hamilton’s food service is contracted to OPAA.
The aim of the hunger free program is to combat childhood obesity and childhood hunger and to prevent diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The guidelines set minimum and maximum requirements for meat or meat alternatives, provide only for fresh fruit, fruit frozen without sugar, canned in light syrup, water or fruit juice or dried fruit only, prohibits the serving of chocolate milk or anything but low-fat white milk, and even requires that the calorie count for the meal include condiments like catsup.
Wednesday’s discussion noted that catsup and salad dressings will now be served in portion-controlled small paper cups.
Other guidelines call for zero trans-fats except for those that naturally occur in products like beef or dairy, a gradual reduction in sodium and use of whole grains in products like pizza crust and breading.
The most controversial part of the new federal guidelines deals with sack lunches, requiring the school to make sure that lunches packed for a field trip also meet the new meal plans. As yet, lunches brought from home will not be inspected or monitored, although that is on the horizon, according to school officials.
Ford explained that this year the new lunch guidelines go into effect. School breakfasts will be subject to the new plan next year.
The only positive side to the plan is that school districts will be reimbursed an additional six cents for every meal served. Also, the a la carte items offered on the lunch line are not subject to the new guidelines, but they are not reimburseable anyway.
In other agenda items Wednesday, the board reviewed the annual A+ Program and Supt. Ford noted the meeting of several goals. For the second year in a row, the district kept semester failures below 4%. Also, some 42.6% of PHS students chose to continue their education in a four-year college, compared to the 35.8 statewide average. A total of 77.68% of the student body is enrolled in the A+ program.
In routine agenda items, the board accepted the high bids on surplus property items, approved substitute teachers, bus driver, secretaries and custodians, approved six children of employees attending school in the district, okayed a payment of $6,900 to Quality Roofing for roofing materials and okayed changes to an admission and withdrawal form. The latter will be signed in front of a notary by families who claim residency when their residency is in question.
Following an executive session the board approved sponsoring the career ladder program for 2013 for qualifying teachers at 44% of the level they qualify for. Due to state funding cuts, the district has cut tutoring requirements for the program.
In other business, the board hired Kim Adkison as a driver of the bus that transports students to a special school in St. Joseph, employed Caroline Pelton as a part time special ed aide at the elementary school and gave Supt. Ford the okay on hiring a night watchman at the high school in the event of excessive heat, so doors and windows could remain open to draw in cooler night air, as that is the only district building without air conditioning.