The Board of Education unanimously approved a measure Tuesday to end the district’s participation in the National School Lunch Program, citing the financial pressures and strict regulations it poses.
The district’s five elementary schools will stop taking part in the program in June as a result of the decision. and do not currently participate, either.
Finance director Richard Huot asked the board that the town's elementary schools be allowed to leave the program this summer, thereby avoiding new regulations that will take effect in the fall of 2011.
While Darien will forfeit a $50,000 grant from the federal government, Huot said that he expects to bring in more money through an increase in students buying meals in 2011-12. The school district’s food service program has a budget of $2,150,000.
“The children in this town are savvy consumers,” Huot said. “You put a lousy product on the table; they are not going to buy it. You put a great product on the table; they are going to buy it.”
Beginning in September, the federal program will require participating school districts to refrain from selling chocolate milk, to offer salad from a self-serve salad bar, and to provide free water in pitchers or fountains in cafeterias.
Huot said that Darien students have access to water fountains and are allowed to bring a bottle from home to fill up, but that this configuration would not meet the new federal mandate.
“We want to leave the national program to control our labor costs,” Huot said. “We feel the recommendations coming down from the state and federal government impede us and make our rules much more complex than they need to be. They will impact us in a very negative way in terms of labor.”
Board chairman Kim Westcott asked if parents would have an opportunity to give their input but said she did not want to get into a discussion over what comes in cartons.
"I do not want to debate chocolate milk," Westcott said.
“If you stop selling chocolate milk, you will lose a lot of students," Huot replied.
Darien elementary schools currently offer salad two times per week, Huot said, though few buy these foods. At the same time, students buy a lot of fruit from the cafeteria.
“What does not excite kids comes off the menu very quickly,” he said.
Board member George Reilly asked if Darien would be commiting itself to a different set of mandates by opting out of the NSLP, but Huot said that was not the case.