Lunch Program In the Red

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A recent audit of Pierson’s school lunch program has turned up a deficit of $49,000 and the district is currently looking at ways to ensure that it will not have to subsidize the program next year.

The Pierson cafeteria has been in flux for the last two years. In 2006 the district dropped the food service provider Arrowmark and switched to Whitson’s to offer the students healthier food options. The following year Whitson’s was dropped and the decision was made to produce the lunches in house in an attempt to save the district money.

“With a small district, it’s tough to break even,” said district business manager Len Bernard, who mentioned that the Bridgehampton School District uses Whitson’s and is also experiencing a deficit.

Bernard and district food service coordinator Paula Brannon each gave presentations this past year remarking on the high number of lunches that were being sold and the favorable reviews by both students and staff.

However in early spring the board of education passed a resolution authorizing an external audit of the program and noticed that Brannon’s salary had not been included in the program’s budget, but instead in the district’s general fund. Prior to last year Brannon had been a cafeteria monitor and a cashier and her salary was never included in the lunch program’s budget. This year she took a civil service test to satisfy the criteria for the food service coordinator position and received benefits for the first time. Her salary though remained in the general fund.

Bernard said he couldn’t answer why the salary was never included in the cafeteria budget.

“I wasn’t here then,” said Bernard.

Superintendent Dr. John Gratto met with Brannon and Bernard his first week on the job to analyze the program.

“Revenues must equal expenses in order to be self-sufficient,” said Gratto. “And the expense of a manager is an expense of the program.”

According to Bernard, the $49,000 is almost equal to Brannon’s salary plus benefits.

Gratto said the district would not look to contract with another food service provider like Whitson’s but that other steps might be taken to either reduce expenses or increase revenues.

“We may consider reducing staff and buying products more economically,” said Gratto. “We may also try to increase sales.”

Bernard mentioned trying to utilize the cafeteria for more in-district events such as the eighth grade moving up ceremony and the athletic banquet. If the district does not have to contract with other caterers for those events, the lunch program could become more cost efficient.

“I think satisfaction is at an all-time high,” said Bernard, “but the question is how do we maximize that and do it in a more cost efficient way.”

“My understanding is the food program has operated in the red for a number of years,” said Gratto. “Therefore, we don’t want to continue doing that.”

Teacher Marianne Terrigno asked board of education president Walter Wilcoxen at Monday’s board meeting if the district would again be scrambling to have a lunch program in place by the beginning of the school year. The past two years the district has contracted with Cappeletti’s restaurant in Noyac for the first couple months of the school before a set menu was established.

“It won’t happened again that way,” said Wilcoxen. “We will have a program, but we also believe the district should not subsidize it. That’s one thing we do know.”

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