Albert Lea school board renews contract with food service

Published 9:35 pm Monday, May 21, 2018

Just before dinnertime Monday, school board members were hearing about lunch and breakfast from Albert Lea School District 241’s food management service.

Chartwells Food Services Regional Director Katy Bazzett said the amount of students eating free and reduced breakfasts and lunches has increased slightly as they work to make eligible students understand they can take advantage of those services.

The presentation also featured a look at profits over the years since 2010-11, the last year the district’s food services were self-operated.

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“We are actually having a higher level of profit now that we’re with Chartwells than when we were self-operated,” Deputy Superintendent Lori Volz said. Things that could affect yearly profits included equipment purchases, using profits to enhance the program or severance payouts for eligible district employees, she said.

Albert Lea Area Schools Food Service Director Doyle Forster said the 2017-2018 school year included bringing in further help in order to grow the program. They selected food service department worker Kristy Schaefer as the new program assistant, who will be in charge of training and safety and do some nutrition education in some classrooms.

Bazzett said Schaefer was also involved in preparing for the two Minnesota Department of Education audits at Sibley Elementary School and Southwest Middle School, both of which finished with good scores.

Looking forward, Forster said the food service is joining a new program next school year called Waste Not. He said it emphasizes the production side to keep workers making as close to what is needed as possible.

The food service contract was renewed by the board for the 2018-19 school year, including a price adjustment with a 1.9 percent fee increase, the maximum increase allowed by federal regulation for the National School Lunch Program.

“The whole process and even the documentation is formatted by the MDE through the USDA, so it’s very much a scripted process,” Volz said.

Meal prices approved as a consent agenda item earlier in the meeting also see an increase for 2018-19, specifically by 10 cents each in child and adult lunches across the district.

Also on Monday night, district Superintendent Mike Funk updated school board members on legislative progress relating to the school board. He said the pension bill for specific public employees has passed in both houses, which calls for the district’s pension contribution to increase from 7.5 to 8.75 percent. Funk said there would be state funding to pay for the increase. The employee contribution would also increase from 7.5 to 7.75 percent.

“He indicated he will sign that,” Volz said of the pension bill.

A policy update in the works could also ask for changes in the lead testing policy in schools, Funk said, should it pass. A more stringent approach is being recommended by the Department of Health. Volz said the district already tests for lead.

“This new requirement, as I understand it, expands it greatly where right now, we test a drinking fountain, and now we’ll have to be testing any water source — like for washing your hands, for example — so the testing will be much expanded,” she said.

Funk said the district’s concern in this instance is that it is unaware of what the lead requirements would be, and — if they are stringent requirements — that they would pose a significant cost for the district.

Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus took the start of the meeting to recognize, with the school board, four students. Graduated seniors Jens Lange and Sydney Doran received AAA recognition from the Minnesota State High School League for their involvement with athletics, academics and the arts. Lange ran cross country and track and was a team captain for both. He was involved in the arts through orchestra, choir, band and extracurricular ensembles, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. He will attend St. Olaf in the fall, Lange said, where he will still be involved in music and athletics. Doran was a captain for both the dance team and the soccer team, also graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was involved in the arts through several choir commitments. She will attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities next year to study business.

Two juniors were nominated for the ExCEL Award through the MSHSL: Gigi Otten and Dane Brownlow. This award recognizes students who demonstrate excellence in community education leadership. Otten is involved in 4-H and several clubs in school, in addition to participating in soccer, track, band, choir and orchestra. Brownlow said he was active with a task force in getting the referendum passed and participates in football and track.

“You’ve probably seen these students either in arts, athletics, academic stuff,” Grossklaus said. “They, they’re top-notch students in Albert Lea, all four of them.”

In other action, the board approved property tax abatements for three properties: one on Milrose Lane, one at 205 Elizabeth Ave. and one at 291 Palmer Circle.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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