Posted on

Charles City school lunch survey shows favorable response

Charles City school lunch survey shows favorable response
High School Principal Bryan Jurrens gives a presentation on the Charles City School District’s student equity programming vision at the school board meeting Monday night. Seated are, from left, student board member Isaiah Tilton, board members Missy Freund and Patricia Rottinghaus, board President Josh Mack, Superintendent Mike Fisher, board member Janiece Bergland, student board member Cael Ruzicka, and board member Scott Dight. Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson,

Charles City School District students would like to see more pizza, mac and cheese, crispitos and spaghetti on the school lunch menu. Among the items they’d like to see less of, they listed pizza, mac and cheese, crispitos and spaghetti.

That seeming contradiction just goes to show what most parents know — different kids like different things.
Jenna Brumm, director for Taher Food Service, the meal provider for the school district, presented the results of a student survey to members of the Board of Education at the board’s regular meeting Monday evening.

Superintendent Mike Fisher explained that people sometimes only comment when they don’t like something.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re also hearing what’s positive,” he said.

A task force including Brumm, secretary Paige Elsbernd who works with food service for the district, and school board student member Isaiah Tilton took a “deep dive into what is our current reality on the school lunch program,” Fisher said.

Brumm said one of the first things they did was to put out a survey to get feedback from the students. She said the survey forms did not ask for the grade of the respondents, so “it’s hard to tell who’s saying what at what grade level.”

“Some of the answers don’t make sense because these were kids answering,” she said.

Some of the results led to ideas that the food service can check out, such as possibly offering strawberry milk to get more kids to drink milk, Brumm said, adding that there were several requests for that.

Other requests, for more cake, cupcakes, brownies and cookies, for example, are limited by nutrition guidelines.

In specific questions, a large majority of students said there is a good variety of choices always or most of the time, a few more students said there is enough time for lunch versus those who said there isn’t enough rime, and most students said they are always or usually able to get their first choice of menu items.

There were 50 to 60 total responses received from students, Brumm said.

Fisher said the task force also called a wide selection of random people and asked them questions about the food service.

“When we looked at what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing, what’s confusing, there was by far more right than wrong. That was very heartening,” Fisher said.

“Overall there’s things we need to improve upon, and Jenna and I have been talking with Paige on things we can do. But I feel a lot stronger giving you an overall healthy grade for our food service,” he said.

In a discussion about delinquent school lunch payments and when kids are cut off from being able to eat, school officials stressed that free and reduced-price meals are available based on family income guidelines and efforts are made to get families signed up, and that who is receiving these meals is kept confidential.

Of families that are able to pay but fall behind, Elsbernd said the district account as of Monday afternoon had a negative balance of $455. She said she had heard of other districts that had negative balances of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but it wasn’t as big of a problem in Charles City.

“I think we do really well at collecting it,” she said.

Families that are behind in lunch payments receive several letters, Elsbernd said. When the negative balance reaches $30 the student can’t get a school lunch and parents are advised to send a cold lunch with the student.

But if a student doesn’t have anything to eat, the teachers are instructed to contact her and there is a donations account that can cover the cost of school meals, Elsbernd said.

She said in the past various groups and individuals have donated to that account, but there have been fewer donations this year. Anyone who would like to donate can send a check to the district office marked for the lunch account.

In other action Monday, the school board:

• Approved sending a letter of support to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union in favor of sanctioning girls wrestling as a high school sport.

• Set a public hearing for 6:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, in the high school commons/study hall regarding the proposed 2020-21 school calendar. The calendar lists first day of classes as Monday, Aug. 5, winter break from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1, and last day of school on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

• Agreed to take no further action on a decision that had been made by the superintendent to not allow Douglas Lindaman, who is registered on the Iowa sex offender registry, to attend the Democratic caucus that was held at the high school on Feb. 3.

Persons on the registry are not allowed to be on school property without written permission of the superintendent. Lindaman had asked Fisher to reconsider his decision and the board considered that an appeal of the decision, but noted that it had not been received in time to be included in the agenda for the board meeting Jan. 27.

Lindaman attended the caucus at the high school and was supervised by a police officer in attendance, but was not asked to leave, according to school board President Josh Mack, who questioned after the meeting why Lindaman had not been arrested.

• Approved the following appointments: Rachel Page, 3rd grade teacher; Darren Bohlen, middle school track coach; Teresa Jensen, change from full-time paraeducator to full-time middle school educational secretary.

• Went into closed session to discuss Superintendent Fisher’s midpoint evaluation.

The next Board of Education meeting will be 6:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, in the high school commons/study hall area.