The Wrangell Public School Board voted Monday to leave the National School Lunch Program and develop its own supplemental school food program.
The Alaska Legislature reduced public school funding for the upcoming school year, and deeper funding cuts will likely happen in the future.
Superintendent Patrick Mayer said he was looking for a food program that would cost less than the last one.
“It was up into the six figures. So we’re hopeful we can save a lot of money and still provide a good lunch, or a good supplemental set of food offerings, for students in the district,” Mayer said.
The supplemental food program will still provide breakfast and lunch to students in the Wrangell Public School District, but meals will be very simple. Most days, students will get a sandwich and some fresh fruit.
The district expects the new program to cost between $60,000 and $70,000. The previous program cost more than twice that amount.
By leaving the National School Lunch Program, the district will lose its federal funding for school food. But it will also cut down on federal nutrition and reporting requirements that took up a lot of time and money.
School board member Aleisha Mollen was the only one to vote against the new plan.
Mollen said she is more concerned about what is being presented to the students.
“Being a free lunch kid myself growing up, I don’t think the kids should be penalized with lesser quality food just for the sake of saving some money,” Mollen said. “I think we should do everything we can to present them the best quality we can while keeping an eye on our budget.”
She said she also had some concerns about the logistics of the program, as did other members of the board.
The budget for the new program is based on one cook spending two hours a day preparing food. Most of the school board members doubted that was possible. But Business Manager Pam Roope said a person who works for the district has been practicing within that timeframe.
In the previous food program, two cooks spent about 20 hours per week preparing hot meals for the students.
Those cooks became employees of NANA Management last year when the district contracted with NANA to provide a food program. The school board ended its contract with NANA last month, so those two cooks will probably lose their jobs.
Some board members also expressed concerns about common allergens, like peanut butter, that are listed in the sample menu. But Board President Susan Eagle said it is not the board’s job to decide what goes on the menu.
At a workshop last month, some community members encouraged the board to start a culinary arts program in which students would cook for their peers. But Superintendent Mayer said there is not enough time to develop a new program before the school year starts.