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No More (Paid) Lunch for Pocantico Students

The regular lunch program will be discontinued in the Pocantico Hills Central School District as of October 19, while free and reduced lunches will continue.

Parents of children attending school in the Pocantico Hills Central district discovered this week that there is such thing as a free lunch, just not a paid one.

A letter went out from the district to parents on Monday announcing that the school lunch program would be cancelled for its paying customers. The free lunch program, however, would continue.

The letter cited budget constraints and staffing issues, giving these figures:

  • At the end of the last school year, two-thirds of the support staff who served the lunches retired.
  • The annual subsidy of $90,000 included in the school budget to maintain the program has “consistently been insufficient to balance program revenues and expenses despite the significant cost saving measures put into place. In fact, in 2011-2012, the cost to operate the program was $122,544 over and above the revenues received from the sale of the lunches and support from the Federal and State Government.”
  • The district twice tried to collect bids to hire a management company to operate the lunch program, but received no proposals. They also tried to form a cooperative agreement with partnering schools, with no luck.

At least one angry parent of two children in the district, Paula McCarthy, couldn’t understand why they couldn’t replace support staff, noting the hefty salaries of top administrators.

"I am very upset for the kids because they look forward to the different menus and to socialize with the cafeteria staff," McCarthy said. "Also there are plenty of people who need jobs in this county, and they should replace the staff that retired; the school can certainly afford to buy food and service for the kids if they can afford such high salaries for the Administration Staff."

Friday, October 19 will be the last date lunches are available. Items in the lunches offered until then include edamame, spinach salad, zucchini sticks, bagel sandwiches. The cost, with milk, is only $2. After Oct. 19, the students will still be able to purchase milk and snacks.

“We will continue to serve lunches to students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches,” concluded the letter. 

I wondered if the free and reduced lunches would be as healthy as the $2 ones, and if the cost of trying to make lunches healthier at only $2 each was a factor in the program's demise. Certainly this is a struggle for any school these days trying to provide better lunches for their students despite tighter budget constraints.

School Board President John Conrad said the free lunches are the same as the paid ones. And in his tenure on the Board raising prices on the lunches was never really an option. "Our fear was always that we would further negatively impact the already low participation rate with any increase in price," he said. "Our view has been that it was better to enhance the lunch program and close the budget gap through increased participation than to raise prices."

Conrad said raised prices would never make up for the losses anyway. According to his calculation, the lunch program has cost district taxpayers more than $800,000 over the course of six years. "That number alone is startling and we must now consider the impact of the New York State 2 percent tax cap," he said.

A second letter went out later this week from Superintendent Valencia Douglas answering concerns and getting deeper into the history of the program and its dissolution, saying that the program had gone down in popularity from about 360 students to 308, with measures to make food more enticing to students apparently not working. The district had increased the amount dedicated to the lunch program from $60,000 to the present $90,000, which still fell far short. 

In her letter, Douglas said the district and the PTA would form a committee to find a more permanent solution to the problem and that all input from the community is welcome. Both letters are attached here in PDF.

"To date we have yet to find any district our size that provides a full lunch program," Douglas said.

Are you a parent of a child attending Pocantico schools? Do you participate in the lunch system? Will you miss it when it's gone? Tell us in the comments.

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Melissa August 24, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Why not just cut out the "edamame, spinach salad, zucchini sticks, and bagels sandwiches" and stick to the basics like PB&j, ham and cheese, apples, carrots, etc. Or raise the price to compensate for the more expensive items on the lunch menu....doesn't sound like brain surgery to me....
Jeanne August 24, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Exactly. I would love to see how they would keep this "anonymous". Any kid who gets a tray of school food is in the program. Period. And why are they serving edamame and zucchini sticks?? Keep the food simple but still nutritious and raise the price a little bit. What is wrong with these people that they can't come up with such a simple solution??
Paula McCarthy Tompkins August 25, 2012 at 02:26 AM
"$800,000. over the course of six years..." and " this is one of the only schools with a full lunch program for its size"; so does a school "this size" need all the full time Administraton staff they currently have?.... what about the Superintendent and her Assistant...making well over $2 Mil, over the course of six years.....there's your tax money!
lulu2@aol.com August 25, 2012 at 02:44 AM
The lunch program is not the only problem....the school is too small to function. How about the transportation costs to high schools, private schools? Running a bus to a private school each day with no pick up?......costs?....
lulu2@aol.com August 25, 2012 at 02:50 AM
pocantico runs a bus to Hackley each day for two pickup times and bus waiss around both times and one of five school days delivers a student to their home......waiste in gas and driver cost. This is not a taxi service. Taxpayers need to know the costs.

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