Breakfast for V’ville elementary students in the works

The Enterprise — Jo E. Prout

Wiley Dawson-Beilby, a Voorheesville fourth-grader, tells the school board Monday that he sometimes smuggles plastic bottles out of school and recycles them at home. “Tomorrow, there will be a red bin in the cafeteria so we can recycle the bottles,” said elementary school Principal Jeffrey Vivenzio.


NEW SCOTLAND — School officials here Monday discussed offering bagged breakfasts to elementary students and joining the federal School Breakfast Program after internal studies showed that nearly 10 percent of students meet requirements for reduced price or free lunches.

“It’s an increase over what we’ve had, historically,” Dr. James Franchini, Voorheesville’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, told the school board Monday. “The lack of an elementary school breakfast program is a significant gap in our food service program,” he said.

Currently, the elementary school does not offer breakfast to students, he said, but the middle and high schools do.

Franchini told the school board that the elementary school now has 46 students who are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches. He said that the district must apply to get into the breakfast program, which reimburses districts with cash subsidies from the United States Department of Agriculture for each meal they serve.

“We are in the process of applying right now,” Superintendent Brian Hunt told The Enterprise.

Schools in the program must serve breakfasts that meet federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price breakfasts to eligible children — stipulations similar to the National School Lunch Program.

“I wouldn’t want to wait for next year,” said school board Vice President Cheryl Dozier.

“We should consider implementing a bagged breakfast program for the elementary school next year,” Franchini said in his presentation. “We can work out a plan and determine the cost. This would be eligible for federal reimbursement.”

Hunt told The Enterprise that the district does not know when the federal approval might be granted, but that “we could start it right away.”

Because meals through the national programs are reimbursable, breakfasts would have “a minimal impact on our food service budget,” he said.

Hunt and Franchinin told The Enterprise that the school would offer labeled bags with pre-packaged cereals, muffins, or  bagels, once Voorheesville gets federal approval.

“We’re able to do it with existing staff,” Hunt said.

The district is unable to begin offering the bagged breakfasts until it hears back from the government, he said.

“We really have to have approval for reimbursement,” Hunt said.

Franchini, in his presentation, noted that 60 percent of breakfasts are served to students who are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches. He and Hunt expect the number to be higher in the elementary school, they said.

Changed economics

The Voorheesville district was recently named the wealthiest of 431 upstate school systems by the newspaper, Buffalo Business First, of western New York, but Superintendent Brian Hunt previously told The Enterprise that the ranking left questions about the underlying data.

“Suburban areas of Albany tend to be wealthier,” he said then. “That can mask underlying issues with students, some students who struggle financially.”

Using  test results and graduation rates available from the New York State Education Department from 2011 to 2014, the paper found that only 3.7 percent of the children in Voorheesville lived below the federally designated poverty line.

Hunt acknowledged last year that free or reduced-fee lunch rates are low in Voorheesville — a standard against which poverty levels are often defined — and that median income in the Voorheesville district is “relatively high.”

Voorheesville withdrew from the federal student lunch program for a year due to complaints by parents and students about nutritional requirements and small portion sizes.

Voorheesville rejoined the federal student lunch program last year.

“That’s a support you can have in a public school. That’s a definite support we will have for families,” Hunt said then.

G. Scott Thomas, projects editor for Buffalo Business First, previously said, “Youth poverty rate is a major factor, which works in Voorheesville's favor, since its poverty rate is the lowest in all of upstate New York.”

An Enterprise story last August on Guilderland, Voorheesville’s neighboring school district, focused on increasing suburban poverty and its effects on student success.

“I’ve seen every nook and cranny of New York State,” said Rebecca Gardner, of the faculty of the Capital Area School Development Association, in an interview with The Enterprise last year. “There is not a single school district in New York that doesn’t have their barrio,” she said, using the Spanish word for neighborhood.

“Niskayuna, North Colonie, Bethlehem, they all have a barrio,” said Gardner. “Everybody’s barrio has grown significantly in the last eight years.”

Traditionally, Voorheesville has not offered breakfast in its elementary school, and only a deli-style breakfast in its middle and high schools.

The federal income eligibility guideline for the upcoming school year for free or reduced-cost meals is $11,770 for a household of one, with $4,160 added for each additional household member.

While lower test scores are linked to students who do not eat breakfast, usually due to economic reasons, Hunt said that scores are not why the district is hoping to offer breakfasts.

“It’s really just the concern for the children,” he said. “It’s something we need to do for our kids.”


The Enterprise — Jo E. Prout
Sadye Goldfarb, a senior at Clayton A. Bouton High School who plans to study environmental engineering, supports the elimination of Styrofoam trays from the district. “At some point, people can’t put money over the environment,” she told the school board Monday. “We can’t eat money.”


Other food program costs

Franchini also discussed with the school board a switch from Styrofoam lunch trays — items protested by students at recent board meetings for health concerns — to reusable trays; the necessary purchase of a tray washer; and the need to hire a person to wash the trays.

The cost of a washer is $8,500, Franchini said. The cost to hire a person for 2.5 hours per day to wash trays is $5,174 annually, he said. Costs to use Styrofoam, instead, he said, were $1,150.

Board President Timothy Blow asked if the increased water use from washing trays would affect the budget; Franchini said that it would.

Hunt told The Enterprise that the board agreed Monday to purchase reusable, washable trays. The board will build the $8,500 cost for a washer into its budget for next year, he said.

“We will be using trays in all buildings,” Hunt said.

One third-grade student at Monday’s meeting suggested that students hold a fundraiser to offset the costs of the $8,500 washer to eliminate Styrofoam.

The school board may also consider raising lunch costs by 10 to 15 cents per meal next year, according to Franchini. The district’s food service program, which Franchini said is not self-sustaining, began the year with an $8,800 deficit, and has experienced a loss so far this year of $10,400, he said.

“That’s a lot of money,” said school board member Cynthia Monoghan of the $19,000 cost.

“We’re afraid of pricing it too high and affecting our [lunch] sales,” Franchini said.

Blow said that taxpayers should not subsidize student lunches.

“Lunches should be subsidized by the students, themselves,” he said.

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