Lunch program back in black

JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District’s School Lunch Program is back in the “black,” but administrators and the Board of Education are grappling with other program concerns.

School Business Manager Alice Sise told the board Thursday night at Glebe Street Elementary School that the program is doing better after past financial difficulties.

“It’s looking very, very good,” she said.

Sise reminded the board “significant staff cuts” were made to get the program financially solvent. She said the lunch program stays within nutrition guidelines regarding such ingredients as starch and sugar, and provides incentives for students to eat certain foods.

“You’ve got your standards you’ve got to meet,” she said.

At Knox Junior High School and Johnstown High School, Sise said students are rewarded with free entrees. Younger elementary students get stickers.

“I’m very happy to say we’re operating in the black at this point,” Sise said.

But Sise said the district has to make a decision on whether to bring back the Summer Lunch Program. The district decided in 2015 to opt out of the National School Lunch Program.

She said the district probably could renew the summer program, but there remain concerns about children walking to it with ongoing capital construction planned this summer at schools. She cited Warren Street Elementary School, which is near JHS.

“I’m worried about construction,” Sise said. “I’m worried about supervision at Warren Street.”

Superintendent Patricia Kilburn said the district doesn’t know how many will participate in a summer food program. She suggested the district might be able to reach out to the community for “options” for summer lunches. She mentioned the Council of Churches.

But it was noted a community site couldn’t be done under the auspices of the National School Lunch Program.

Board President Kathryn Zajicek said the board could decide at its March 22 special meeting whether to renew the summer program.

The board also discussed delinquent payers in the lunch program. It was noted some parents don’t want to pay what they owe, as high as $40 in some cases.

“I didn’t sign up to be a debt collector,” Sise said.

Sise said the lunch program can’t continue to be profitable if the district doesn’t get proper reimbursement for meals.

Board Vice President Evamarie Mraz suggested a “cap,” for example —a $15 delinquency and a child receives an “alternative” lunch. Those include peanut butter and jelly and cheese sandwiches.

Board member Jennifer Sponnoble said the alternative lunch unfortunately “marks” certain kids.

Zajicek also alluded to school children being “punished” for delinquent parents.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Chad Fleck

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