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Audit of BHUSD Lunch Program Shows Many Problems

The school board needs to cut the costs of the lunch program while complying with a federal mandate to serve students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

An independent audit of the Beverly Hills Unified School District‘s problematic lunch program has revealed the extent of the challenges ahead for the school board as it tries to revamp the program.

“I have never seen a district in worse condition,” Debi Deal, the FCMAT independent auditor, told the board Wednesday evening.

BHUSD hired the educational agency, Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (), to audit the lunch program after the district lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two years serving lunch. FCMAT’s mission is to help California's educational organizations fulfill their financial and managerial responsibilities.

FCMAT auditors looked at “all issues” related to serving lunch at the five city schools over 12 days in January, Deal said. They found numerous problems, including a lack of appropriate cash management supervision, no procedural guidelines for staff, overproduction of food and high amounts of waste, and a very low participation rate at all five schools.

The low participation rate is partly because the students do not like the food. The evidence: even among those who qualify for free and reduced meals, only 43 percent take the lunch.

High prices are another deterrent. BHUSD meals are priced 23 percent higher than other comparable districts throughout the state.

“That tells me you overpriced yourselves,” Deal said.

School lunch prices range from $4 for elementary school meals to more than $6 for high school students. Participation rates ranged from just 5.7 percent of high schoolers eating school lunch to a high of 24.7 percent of Horace Mann students.

A central problem facing the lunch program, Deal said, is that there is no full-time director of food services to oversee the program. She also suggested the district limit its food choices, offer more varied menus and survey the students to see what they would like to eat.

To some board members, hiring a full-time director of food services is not a panacea.

“We have had systemic losses in our lunch program for years, even when we had a full-time director,” board president Lisa Korbatov told Deal.

Why offer school lunch at all? BHUSD is hamstrung by federal law requiring the district to serve the six percent of the student population who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Furthermore, the district cannot identify these children, making it difficult to offer just a limited lunch program. Currently students can give the cashier an account number to pay for their lunch, so it is impossible to know if that account is funded by a parent or by the district.

I complement the board for hiring FCMAT and allowing the agency to publicly admonish them for the lunch program. Board members are facing a Herculean task as they consider their options. Hiring a full-time food services director and serving better-tasting food is contradictory with the other important task of lowering lunch prices.

Until they figure it out, I, like many parents, will continue to send my children to school with a bagged lunch every day.

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Jodi Ticknor March 27, 2011 at 01:13 AM
A few years ago, I, along with many others, formed a Committee to get better lunch programs at the school and advocate for positive changes. Instead, they gave us vending machines laden with junk. When we complained, they refused to take them down BECAUSE THEY MADE THE DISTRICT MONEY. Thank god the Board is finally looking at the food program and there will finally be CHANGE FOR THE BETTER. Since most of the school's kitchens are in states of disrepair, requiring additional appliances or remodeling to be truly functional, working kitchens, it may make more fiscal sense to bring in a reputable outside company (one that uses local farms and organics, please, like many of the private schools have) and remove food services from the budget, freeing up additional monies FOR TEACHERS and PROGRAMS. Until then, I, like Laurie, will continue to pack lunches for my kids.
Lily Daisy March 27, 2011 at 04:22 PM
My child has been attending school in this district since Kindergarten. Way back then (5 years ago) , I was told about the "nasty" chicken they served at lunchtime. Now I see they have raised the lunch costs several dollars, but apparently no improvement in the food. My suggestions for more participation is to appeal to the parents as well as the students, i.e. healthier food based on organic (this doesn't need to be expensive), slightly less in cost than now posted (this would encourage usage) and a real "campaign" to promote this "healthy lunch" concept. In other words, hire a nutritionist for the district to oversee all the menus and get one of the incredible chefs in our district to offer his promotion of the program! Done....
pam March 27, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Agree with others that an outside chef/nutritionist should come in and take over the food program. There must be plenty of professionals in these categories looking for the good publicity it would bring to themselves if they could successfuly overhaul the districts horrendous food services program. Minimally, we need to simply look at what much smaller private schools are doing with outside vendors to atleast find a temporary solution to this problem while a complete overhaul is formulated. Furthermore, the previous school board members should be ashamed at themselves for allowing the food services program to continue under their watch with out publically calling for a sooner investigation to the large amounts of tax payer dollars being used to cover all it's shortfalls. I applaud the current school board for finally bringing this to light in a transparent manner.
Marie Cunningham March 27, 2011 at 08:23 PM
Thank you all for your comments on the state of school lunches served in Beverly Hills. Our hope is that the school board will take your thoughts into consideration while working to fix this problem.
Arya Boudaie March 28, 2011 at 04:07 AM
Did they really need to get an Audit for them to realize that kids don't enjoy cafeteria food? It's really no secret at all. I remember while I was at horace mann, the only food my friends would get would be teriyaki chicken, corn dogs, or pizza. Everything else was nasty and wasn't worth asking parents for lunch money (e.x. fish patties). The only time that there's an actual line in front of cafeteria is during the pizza days (or at least that's how it was when I was in 1st-8th grade), every other day was normal. At BHHS, most of my friends either swear against the cafeteria, or just go to buy french fries. I myself have never eaten there before, so I can't say much about that food. I know I even have a teacher who's been working for 15+ years, and she has never ate from the cafeteria. I don't know about the prices, but knowing our district it's going to be 5-6 dollars for a hot dog, some chips, and a water bottle. Anyway this is just a rant, since I have no proposed solution, and no evidence/facts. I still don't know why we had to get an Audit to figure something as simple as this out...

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