The Suburbanite
  • Springfield food service masters budget management

  • Springfield Local Schools have worked through the challenges and turned a five-year accumulative $160,000 deficit into the current $66,000 profit.

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  • Gone are the days of hamburger gravy.
    At a time when the government is detailing menus to fit healthy eating guidelines, school lunches are much different. And the school cafeteria game has greatly changed, creating new challenges for districts that fight to keep food service out of the red.
    Springfield Local Schools have worked through the challenges and turned a five-year accumulative $160,000 deficit into the current $66,000 profit.
    Business Manager Dan Laskos said Springfield manages that by allowing the cafeteria is run as its own business and is held accountable for its spending.
    “The ‘minus’ is not just erased to start fresh each year,” Laskos said. “If we lost $30,000 one year and $20,000 the next, then it just sits there and you start the next year $50,000 in the hole.”
    Springfield was in the state fiscal emergency until July 2011. During that time, through attrition, some staff members were cut, including staff in food service.
    “We were overstaffed,” Laskos said. “We need at least three people to serve lunch, even in a small building. When we were closing buildings and fine tuning staff it began to save us money.”
    For food service, additional cuts are considered annually.
    “Now,” Laskos said, “the staff cuts are through retirement. We look to see if the staffing is right and analyze if we need to replace that person.”
    In May 2007, cafeteria staff logged, on average, 142 hours per day. Currently, they average 105 hours each day.
    Closing buildings added more students to Springfield’s current buildings, but the move streamlined food service operations.
    Boyer Kindergarten Center and Lakemore Elementary were closed, reducing 24 labor hours per day. Another 13 hours were trimmed from the existing schools for a total of 37 work hours cut from each school day.
    When the new school building opens, food service will likely become more efficient with fewer buildings housing larger student populations.
    “Our cafeteria managers and my administrative assistant, Margaret Wolford and all the hourly workers do a terrific job in watching costs,” Laskos said, attributing the success to the staff.
    “Another reason we save some labor costs is we use some of our CBI (Career Based Intervention) students in the cafeterias,” said Laskos.
    The students work in the schools, which helps the budget because they are paid from different funds, not from the food service budget.
    CBI teacher Larry Murphy explained the freshman students work throughout the school district for two class periods during the day. Each of those student workers has a supervisor that is in charge of their work experience and evaluates their performance at the end of each grading period.
    “The workplace supervisors do an excellent job serving as mentors to prepare the CBI students for future employment,” Murphy said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Students move on during their high school years to spend part of their school day working in the community.
    Laskos contributes the stability of food service to the cafeteria managers and staff who work diligently to keep costs down and save on resources.
    Annetta Cline, manager of the Spring Hill Junior High cafeteria, said that, throughout the last five years, the government has offered a larger selection of commodities.
    “We used to get things like raw meat, catsup and butter. They took that away, but we get many more things,” said Cline. “We use every bit of it.”
    The list of commodities received today is a long and includes items such as vegetables, french fries, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, breadsticks, eggs, fruit, pasta, raisin bars, rice, already mashed frozen potatoes and shredded cheese.
    Commodities account for 50 percent of what is used in the cafeterias.
    Not only do the commodities help with food costs, but they help keep labor costs down as most items are precooked, sliced and prepared making preparing lunch less labor-intensive.
    “We used to spend hours shredding and slicing cheese, now it comes that way,” Cline said.
    She added that she has had to make as many as 140 peanut butter sandwiches. Now they have peanut and jelly on un-crusted wheat bread from commodities.
    Cline said they use everything.
    “We have to have our planned menu, but I will use the leftovers as extras. I save the leftover vegetables and freeze them and make soup. I have had teachers down here every day this week buying the soup I made,” said Cline.
    “The managers from all of the schools are good about controlling their recipes and the size,” Laskos said. “We try to reduce waste as much as possible.”
    The Springfield cafeterias also serve breakfast for students. Cline said she knows the students’ likes and dislikes and works with them to make sure they are getting healthy meals.
    “We have had our menu analyzed for a month,” Laskos said. “We put every item and the calories on it for the whole week to meet the current requirements. The government then lets us know if we are within those guidelines. They specifically check one week of the menu (and) there are calorie limits you can’t go over.”
    Students only have to take three of the five required components offered. However, they are required to take either a fruit or vegetable or both each day.
    Cline does her part to contributes to the freshness of the food. In the summer she picks vegetables from her garden and brings them in. She freezes what she can.
    “The students’ favorite is squash,” Cline said.
    Page 3 of 3 - FEEDING EVERY CHILD
    Even though Springfield Local has lost 350 students in total enrollment, the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch went up. Currently, 59 percent of Springfield students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.
    “We actually have 179 more free and reduce students today than five years ago,” said Laskos.
    He also said that federal reimbursement has gone up 16 percent in five years.
    This year, a new software program was implemented called Meals Plus. It not only allows for parents to ensure their students have lunch money, it works to ensure that students enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs are eating.
    Meals Plus allows students and parents to put money in a personal account at any time. Students then a PIN to pay for the food they purchase with funds from their personal account.
    The account also tracks what they eat.
    Laskos said the program is working well and parents response is positive.
    Meals Plus, however, also allows students in free and reduced lunch programs to pay for meals using a PIN, a process no different from their peers. This allows them to remain anonymously in the program.

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