The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is responding to complaints from parents in Moose Pass that a proposal to take away two rural school lunch programs would widen the inequalities between rural and urban schools.
“I stood by and kinda watched the art and music slide out of school, I saw the sport programs all eliminated, and I just don’t understand why it would even be on the agenda to take a hot lunch program away from these kids,” said Don Kent, a parent who lives in Moose Pass.
“They’ve had a lot of programs taken away from them in past and it’s really hard to explain to them why kids over here have these programs. I don’t know what to tell them about equality,” Kent said at the school district’s board meeting Monday.
While unfortunate, people who live in smaller communities don’t have the economy of scale to support a lot of things larger communities have, and that may include the school lunch program, said Glen Szymoniak, assistant superintendent of administrative services.
In schools in Moose Pass and Hope, where it has been proposed that the school lunch program be ended, a total of just 29 lunches have been served a day, nine in Hope and 20 in Moose Pass.
In order for the program to be viable, at least 15 lunches need to be served per paid staffing hour. That threshold has not been met and in Hope and Moose Pass the program has been loosing money as a result.
In Moose Pass, for example, just five lunches are being served per hour of paid staff time.
Little can be done to improve this equation without a greater demand for lunches, Szymoniak said.
And it certainly has nothing to do with the cook at the school, who is an efficient worker, he said.
“She’s a marvelous person, she works her tail off,” he said. “I’ve known her for a long time.”
A decision to remove the school lunch program from these schools would hurt poor parents who rely government subsides to provide their children with free or discounted lunches through the program, Moose Pass parents said Monday.
“(Moose Pass) is an economically depressed area, these people need this lunch program,” said Erin Knotek, a Moose Pass parent.
Kent said the program helps him and his 13-year-old son get by on the $1,086 in income he receives each month.
“This program is kind of a saving grace for me as a single parent,” he said. “(And) there’s a lot of other people in my situation.”
Parents also complained they were not notified early on that a decision might be made to cut the program.
“The cook got a termination notice, that’s how we found out,” Knotek said.
With earlier notice, parents may have been able to step up to the plate to help generate alternatives to ending the program, she said.
“I ask the district ... why weren’t we told?” she said. “We’re pretty creative people in Moose Pass. We would work with you.”
Because Moose Pass does not have a radio station or newspaper it is difficult to notify people there, but once the cook was informed notices were posted around Moose Pass in an effort to alert parents, Szymoniak said.
“People where notified they just didn’t like the timing,” he said. “Although parents may not like it that they found out from the cook, we would rather the cook not find out from the parents.”
But Szymoniak said parents still probably should have been notified earlier than they where, and he took responsibility for the delay in notification.
For the time being, the hot lunch program at Moose Pass will continue. Szymoniak has arranged to meet with parents at 1 p.m. Thursday at the school to discuss alternatives to cutting it completely.
“If I go down there and they insist on having a four-hour person make 20 meals and we can’t work that out, then I don’t want to guarantee anything, because that’s why we’re running in the red,” he said. “But I’m really confident that we’ll be able to work out a solution.”
In Hope, however, parents have known for sometime the school lunch program might not be continued there, and the program is still scheduled to be discontinued, he said.
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