QUESTION: How many school meals has the Alamance-Burlington school system served since schools closed in March, and how much has it cost?
ANSWER: ABSS prepared and served a total of 846,629 school breakfasts and lunches between March 17 and June 12, the latest date for which the figures are available, according to Pam Bailey, who is the school system’s child nutrition director. Of those, fewer than 100 have been disposed, she recently confirmed for The Alamance News.
The school system has spent about $2.6 million on the child nutrition program during the current fiscal year that ends June 30, ABSS finance director Jeremy Teetor recently confirmed for the newspaper.
The total figure reflects $1,857,964.04 that ABSS has spent on payroll and food costs in the child nutrition department, and $712,721.47 spent on transportation costs to deliver school meals, based on a breakdown that the finance director provided to the newspaper. He said those costs are in line with ABSS has spent on those departments during previous fiscal years.
“ABSS is continuing the grab-and-go feeding program established during the mandated shutdown through August 7,” ABSS public information officer Jenny Faulkner explained in an interview.
Under normal conditions, ABSS provides school meals during the summer for day camps and daycare programs that operate near schools that have high proportions of students who qualify to receive free and/or reduced-price meals.
“This summer is different because of the pandemic,” Faulkner elaborated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has relaxed requirements to allow school systems to continue operating as they have been since schools closed for in-person instruction in March, she said.
ABSS is following federal nutrition guidelines that require school breakfasts to have at least one serving of fruits/vegetables; bread; dairy; and meat or a meat alternative. School lunches must contain at least five of those items, based on USDA nutrition guidelines.
Faulkner said that grab-and-go meals will continue to be delivered on weekdays to 11 ABSS schools, where they are available for pickup, while ABSS bus drivers will continue to deliver meals to nearly 400 locations throughout the county during the week. Participating students receive a lunch for that day, plus a bagged breakfast consisting of nonperishable items for the next morning, she said.
A total of 23 school buses are delivering meals to school feeding sites and at stops that serve as central locations for neighborhoods throughout the county, according to ABSS transportation director Corey Davis.
More than 250 ABSS employees have pitched in to provide ABSS students with school meals since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all North Carolina public schools to close in mid-March, initially for two weeks, which he later extended through the end of the 2019-20 school year. The total of 252 ABSS employees includes 160 child nutrition workers who have assisted with meal preparation and 92 employees in the transportation department who have helped deliver meals, according to breakdowns that Bailey and Davis provided for the newspaper.
State and federal assistance for child nutrition
ABSS is also estimated to receive approximately $1.3 million in coronavirus relief funding that the General Assembly has allocated for school nutrition services, as part of the “2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act,” based on figures that Teetor previously cited during a recent discussion with school board members.
Statewide, the General Assembly has allocated a total of $75 million to support school nutrition programs under the 2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act. The legislation initially required the funds to be spent by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, but it appears likely the deadline will be extended until September 30 of this year, Teetor told the newspaper.
Asked how ABSS will use the $1.3 million state coronavirus relief funding that is designated for child nutrition, Teetor said it will be used to offset costs to prepare and deliver meals this summer, as well as “whatever [the child nutrition department] needs to make meals happen safely when school resumes,” providing that the deadline to spend the funds is extended beyond June 30.
The school system’s cost per plate – which includes breakfast, lunch, and a snack – totals about $5.57, Bailey told the newspaper. That expense is offset by a federal reimbursement that currently totals $7.51 per plate, she said.
Bailey emphasized that the school system’s costs for preparing each school meal are “estimates, taking into account that school kitchens are staffed differently, based on the amount of food they are preparing, so this is an average across the [entire child nutrition] program.”
ABSS has announced that it will continue operating the summer feeding program through Friday, August 7. The upcoming 2020-21 school year is scheduled to start August 17.