Sullivan County BOE hears complaints about school lunch program

Rick Wagner • Aug 30, 2013 at 2:01 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — For the second month in a row, the Sullivan County Board of Education heard a complaint about the federally required changes in this year’s school lunches.

“It’s the same old story, our school lunches,” Brenda Leonard of Bluff City told the BOE. “Do you all not feel like it’s a critical issue?”

Leonard first complained about school lunches at the September meeting, which Director of Schools Jubal Yennie later said prompted him to eat lunch the following week in the cafeteria of Sullivan East High School she mentioned.

Leonard last month complained portions were too small for active high school students, that students found most of the meals unpalatable, and many packed lunches or simply did not eat.

Yennie said Monday night after the meeting that he asked in September at East to be given the same meal as students and found the macaroni and cheese entree tasty and the meal filling, even though he is not a fan of mac and cheese.

Yennie said he plans further cafeteria trips in the weeks to come as he is out and about in the schools.

“Our kids are going hungry,” Leonard said, adding she worries most about students receiving free and reduced-price meals who are likely unable to pack lunches from home.

Leonard also read a letter from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., indicating the 81-page federal lunch rules say grades K-5 students get a maximum of 550 calories, middle school students 600 and high school students 750. Roe wrote that after the November election, legislation called the No Hungry Kids Act would repeal the calorie maximums if passed. Roe, a physician, signed on as a co-sponsor.

Before the meeting, county School Nutrition Supervisor Lisa Holt said a la carte items are sold separately to students and, to her knowledge, are not covered by the federal rules.

Holt also confirmed participation in the lunch program is down some from last year, which Yennie after the meeting said could have students eating less healthy as well as hurt the nutrition program’s bottom line, as the system tries to make it self-supporting.

“I’m concerned because we are trying, and that (nutrition) fund needs to be self-sufficient,” Yennie said.

In other matters:

• Yennie said Sullivan’s collaborative conferencing, which replaced collective bargaining, will be videotaped as a model for other systems. He said the sessions will start soon with the Sullivan County Education Association (SCEA), the county branch of the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) and school board representatives.

• The board received copies of mid-September air quality tests done at Ketron Elementary School, which indicate air quality in the building is significantly cleaner than the outside air. E-mails, letters and calls to the Kingsport Times-News have complained about teacher and student absences from upper respiratory problems, but Yennie said the school — closed for a year for renovations and expansion — has been at or close to the systemwide averages in both areas.

• The board on third and final reading adopted updated policies on separation practices for non-tenured teachers; allowing board members to participate electronically in school board meetings; the procedure for approving charter schools; the evaluation of the director of schools; and the safe relocation of students. All those reflect changes in Tennessee law and were recommended by the Tennessee School Boards Association.

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