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Published: Monday, 3/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

TPS mulls new plan for student breakfasts

To save money, kids would eat in classroom

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A potential new approach to how Toledo Public Schools serves students breakfast could save the district money, boost academics, and feed hundreds of hungry children.

Most TPS students already are eligible for free and reduced lunch and breakfasts, but not every student takes advantage of the subsidized meal. Some district officials and Toledo Board of Education members want to move breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom. Beyond the altruistic benefits, if every student eligible for subsidized breakfasts ate the meals, the district could save more than $1 million.

“We would cut out our supplementing our food program,” by moving to classroom breakfasts, board member Larry Sykes said.

The district spends about $1.5 million a year subsidizing its food program, TPS Business Manager James Gant said. Because the federal government reimburses schools based on how many students eat meals, the more students who eat, the more money the school receives.

Agriculture dept. changes rules

Rule changes by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow school districts such as Toledo Public Schools to distribute tons of excess food they previously had to discard.

Schools officials said they could not donate food to food banks or charitable organizations under the agriculture department’s old rules, meaning food constantly ended up in the trash.

Meanwhile, scores of TPS students and their families are homeless, and many “Dumpster dive” outside schools. That good food was wasted while children were in need infuriated Toledo Board of Education member Larry Sykes.

But in recent weeks, the agriculture department loosened rules, and TPS is developing plans to make sure excess food isn’t tossed in the trash.

“We can give that food away,” Mr. Sykes said. “That’s a win.”

Distribution is not yet clear. The district can’t act as a food bank itself, TPS Business Manager James Gant said. TPS may send nonperishable food to local food banks, Mr. Sykes said, while developing satellite programs across the city with community partners to distribute perishable items more directly to TPS children and families.

If TPS can boost the number of students who eat breakfast, more of that money could go to academic programs, Mr. Gant said.

The breakfast approach — which likely will need negotiated changes to union contracts — is part of a larger possible overhaul to the way TPS serves students food. District leaders want to improve the nutritional quality of food students receive, making sure each student receives a healthy meal every day.

An ad hoc school board committee has discussed the overhaul intermittently in recent years, to little effect, though efforts ramped up in recent weeks. District officials visited other Ohio districts that have breakfast in the classroom. Mr. Sykes said an added benefit is fewer conflicts during the morning rush because students get out of the hallway and into class early.

Breakfast likely would be built into the school day, with students eating during morning announcements and attendance.

The breakfast program is in discussion stages. How the program will run and who would be in charge haven’t been determined. Union leaders, such as Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel President Don Yates, have raised concerns that staff aren’t given added assignments and new tasks without new supports.

“They can’t be two places at once,” Mr. Yates said of staff.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Gant said the district plans to pilot an offshoot “grab-and-go” breakfast program at several schools, during which students grab packaged meals in the morning to take to class with them. That, along with efforts such as increased marketing and possible extended breakfast times, could boost participation, he said.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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