Onalaska schools might replace dairy dose with ‘nutrition break’

2013-06-27T14:19:00Z Onalaska schools might replace dairy dose with ‘nutrition break’By RANDY ERICKSON | randy.erickson@lee.net La Crosse Tribune

The cost of participating in the Onalaska School District’s morning milk break program for elementary students is going up $2 per semester. But if Food Service Director Kerry Johnson had her way, the milk break would go away.

Johnson made her annual budget report Monday night to the Onalaska Board of Education. While meal prices will remain unchanged next school year, milk prices will rise to $32 per semester from this year’s $30 charge, which is up $2 from the previous year.

Ideally, Johnson would like to eliminate the milk program and offer elementary students a morning “nutrition break,” a sort of breakfast program like what is offered at the middle school.

A nutrition break would better ensure that kids aren’t trying to learn while they’re hungry. And it would actually be less costly for the school district that the milk program.

The district gets a better reimbursement rate for its breakfast program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture than it does from the Wisconsin School Day Milk Program, which is administered by the state.

The morning nutrition break at the middle school, which is counted as part of the district’s breakfast program, has proven popular and has helped drive up breakfast participation numbers. In April of this year, for example, the average daily participation in breakfast was 463, up 9.2 percent from April 2012, while the average daily lunch participation was 1,709, down 0.8 percent.

The problem with starting an elementary morning nutrition break, Johnson acknowledged, is figuring out how to work it into the schedule. “I know there’s not a lot of time in people’s day,” she said.

It’s a puzzle worth putting some effort into, said Larry Dalton, the district’s finance director. “I think it is good for kids, and it certainly is good for Kerry’s numbers,” Dalton said.

“Kerry’s numbers” were pretty impressive to board members. Johnson has saved the district money and improved the quality of school lunches, in part by participating in a Coulee Region School Nutrition Group coalition of 10 area school districts formed this school year.

The group has been able to get better prices by getting together to order larger quantities. And the group can take better advantage of the USDA’s commodities program.

Johnson explained that school districts can seek to order chicken breasts instead of ground beef, for example, through a “direct diversion” process offered through the USDA’s commodities program. But a certain threshold needs to be met for some commodities to be shipped and school districts acting alone can’t be guaranteed they will get what they want. They might get a “big brown box” of food instead that wouldn’t be as healthy and might even require more effort to prepare.

With the regional purchasing group, the “truckload” threshold can consistently be met, Johnson said.

“This is a really outstanding change,” Dalton said. “You’re saving everybody money.”

Johnson won board approval for her $1.3 million food service budget for 2013-14, and with the approval came a high compliment for Johnson from board President Ann Garrity: “I am overwhelmingly impressed with your creativity.”

BUDGET: Gov. Scott Walker had not signed the biennial budget as of Monday, but Dalton offered the board a picture of the 2013-14 budget even without the final state aid figures.

Dalton predicted a total 2013-14 tax levy of nearly $15.8 million, up $413,178 (2.7 percent) from the levy for 2012-13, which was up $736,948 (5 percent) from the previous year’s levy.

“We will be revisiting this for sure, but at least it’s something,” Dalton said.

Other pieces of the budget puzzle are still missing, too, including enrollment numbers and property values. But Dalton projected that with steady enrollment and property values, the tax rate will go up slightly, from $9.60 per $1,000 of equalized property value to $9.86.

“It would be a quite low mill rate compared to the state average and neighboring districts,” Dalton said.

Of the district’s projected $30.6 million general fund budget for 2013-14, $1.7 million is thanks to passage of a three-year revenue cap override referendum. This is the last year of that override, and the new budget includes the cost of holding another referendum.

Dalton noted that the board has not yet discussed — let alone approved — a revenue cap override referendum, but it is likely to come up in coming months.

The district might also be looking at a referendum for capital improvements. A facilities study is under way to identify and prioritize potential projects, which could even involve building a new school.

The bonds for building Eagle Bluff Elementary are due to be paid off in 2017, and a couple smaller loans will be paid off in the next couple years.

“It’s getting closer to a window of opportunity,” Dalton said.

PEOPLE: The board accepted the resignation of OHS math teacher and golf coach Dick Kyes. Varsity volleyball head coach Megan Swiggum was granted a one-year leave of absence.

The board also approved the following hirings: Britney Plunkett as kindergarten teacher; Claire Sauer as middle school secretary; and Chris Troyanek as a limited-term groundskeeper.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Jobaba
    Report Abuse
    Jobaba - June 27, 2013 7:24 pm
    We can take at least one year off the referendum - the district squirreled away $600,000 in a rainy day fund that poor Larry Dalton didn't see coming - yet now he can offer predictions?
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