Dayton Superintendent Addresses Concerns from Parents About Lunch Food
About a half dozen concerned parents came to the regular Dayton School Board meeting Wednesday night to complain about the food being served to their children. One parent brought a few pictures of food, one of chicken that was apparently pinkish near the bone, and one of a bruised strawberry, according to Superintendent Jay Brewer.
Among the complaints were chicken that appeared not completely cooked, not enough food offered to the children, the fact that the cafeteria would sometimes run out of food and had to substitute food for some of the children, and the fact that the food doesn't look good.
Brewer said that he appreciated everyone bringing it to his attention, but he would prefer that people call him individually or email him so he could address the complaints on an individual basis. He reminded people that he had started a push this summer to start serving food that was more nutritious for the students in an effort to give the students healthier food and teach them to make healthier choices. Cook for America, an organization that teaches food service teams to cook healthier food from scratch, came to the school this summer and worked with the staff. But, as Brewer said, there are always bumps in the road when you are starting a new program, and the growing pains become obvious. He said the Kentucky State School Board magazine, The Advocate, featured Dayton schools in an article praising them for their efforts to make food better.
But the parents wanted answers.
"A lot of kids don't know what uncooked chicken looks like," said one father. "I don't want my kid eating that."
"There is no uncooked chicken," Brewer said unequivocally. "Do some research on chicken. Some chicken might look pink but it is not uncooked. Fresh chicken is better than chicken nuggets."
As to bruised fruit, Brewer said that they used to serve all canned fruit, but now they are trying to serve fresh fruit and vegetables, and sometimes fruit can be bruised.
The fact that the cafeteria runs out of food is something that has been happening for years and is not a new problem, according to the superintendent. Brewer said that they have to run a tight line, and can't make so much food that they have to throw some away, but they can't always control how many children will decide not to pack on a given day, or other variables. He said the cafeteria staff do the best they can to provide food for the children to eat. They cook the food at the high school and bring it to the grade school, and they don't run out of food every day.
That being said, they serve 1000 students two meals a day, and they are currently functioning on a reduced staff, having recently had one resignation and two retirements.
Brewer acknowledged that it is easier to feed a child garbage than to try to introduce new foods that will be healthier for him, but he feels his mission is to help his students be the best they can be, in the classroom and in the cafeteria. He cited the growing epidemic of overweight children.
"We are going down a bumpy road," he said. "At first we were trying all these different breakfast foods, but we were advised to cut down the choices and now we have something like freshly made berry bread, and hard boiled eggs, but with the choice of cereal, the same basic menu every five days. We are building a program and there are bound to be challenges. What I am understanding from you is that the philosophy is not the problem, it is the execution."
With that he promised to give his attention to the complaints and reminded the parents that he had not received one email or phone call about this, so he wanted parents to know they could contact him directly.
George Sparks, from Barnes and Dennig, gave a full report on the audit done annually on all school boards. The result is that the school district is doing very well.
"You have put youself in a position to be proactive instead of reactive," Sparks said. "You have improved your financial position dramatically this year. You have increased your cash from a half million to a million, and that is great."
However he talked to the board about the fact that the state's teacher retirement fund is grossly underfunded and the cost is starting to be passed down to local levels. He told the board that their share of the problem, which is recalculated every year, is currently at $1.449 million, and that is a number which could throw any budget into the negative.This number is to be reported in the liabilities, although it isn't required to be paid as of yet. He referred to the paragraph in the report that said "the continual erosion of state funding makes it increasingly difficult to maintain the high standard of education and programming that our students deserve without increasing taxes locally".
Brewer said it was similar to telling his teenaged daughter that he is paying approximately $70 per month for her cell phone, but he was going to expect her to assume the responsibility for that bill in the near future.
Both Principal Jeremy Dodd and Principal Greg Duty announced that test scores and achievement are up in the district. Dodd reported that the middle school's test scores were the result of the K-prep tests, and the high school were the result of end of course tests. He told the board that they realized early on that they had a problem with writing, so a few months ago the teachers were told that everybody has to write in all classes, and the practice and exposure of that change helped the students score well in writing.
Duty gave a power point showing his students scored well in reading, writing, and language mechanics, but lower in math, although he said the scores were still above state averages.
It was announced that the elementary school would kick off their 'Book a Week' program on Thursday, and the Lincoln Elementary talent show would also be on Thursday.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor