NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools is making progress in revamping its food service program, NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said Thursday.
Not only is the Rowayton Elementary School cafeteria upgrade just about done, and the food at Wolfpit Elementary described as “edible” in feedback from a parent, but NPS was just awarded a grant to expand its breakfast offerings, Hamilton told the Board of Education Finance Committee.
The $52,000 grant from AASA, The School Superintendents Association, will fund equipment needed to expand a breakfast program piloted last year at Brookside Elementary School to most of the other schools in the district, he said.
The program allows students to “grab breakfast as they come in the door,” he said.
“It’s been proven, everywhere this has been implemented, that it has a very dramatic impact on the number of kids who eat breakfast in the breakfast program,” Hamilton said. “Currently, only 17 percent of our students who participate in the free and reduced lunch (program) participate in the breakfast program. We are missing out on actually about $1 million of federal reimbursement. If we were to get the same participation rate in our breakfast program that we have in our lunch program it would generate an additional $1 million of revenue to the food service program. So, we see this as probably the most significant thing we can do from a financial perspective to address food service.”
Hamilton reminded Board members that there was a $200,000 transfer at the end of the fiscal year to cover a shortage in food service.
“Approximately 70% of the revenue to support Food Services comes from grants, and the balance comes from food sales and catering,” Hamilton wrote to the Board in June.
“I don’t think we’ll collect a full additional million but I think we can eliminate that $200,000 gap. We want to up the game,” Hamilton said.
The breakfast program will expand across the district, except at the high schools and two of the middle schools, he said, commenting that studies show that hungry children don’t learn well, and calling this a “win-win.”
The Board commissioned a report on its food service this year, receiving the results in April. Recommendations made by John Turenne of Sustainable Food Systems included breakfast to go and a district executive chef.
A new manager for the food service began work in July and the district is very close to hiring an executive chef, he said.
Rowayton Elementary School parents pushed this year for capital budget funds to upgrade the school’s cafeteria, with a low-budget design that they came up with.
Hamilton said that’s 95 percent complete, with fresh paint and an aquatic theme for the décor, new flooring, sound absorbing materials installed to reduce the noise level and new tables to create smaller dining environments instead of the long tables that used to pull out of the wall.
It’s hoped that other schools can model changes to their cafeterias from what’s being done in Rowayton, he said.
“I hear that the food at Wolfpit is quite edible,” Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said.
“We got a nice email… ‘First time I’ve seen blueberries and watermelon, unlimited supply of fruits and vegetables and really good-looking food that the kids were excited about,’” Hamilton said. “So that was a nice comment.”