LONDONDERRY, N.H. – Federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. are threatening a New Hampshire school district after it withdrew its local high school from the National School Lunch Program.
School officials last year decided to remove Londonderry High School from the National School Lunch Program after nutrition regulations championed by first lady Michelle Obama resulted in a significant drop in cafeteria sales, and a significant increase in food waste, the New Hampshire Union Leader reports.
The move meant the high school forfeited federal subsidies that come with the program, but officials increased lunch prices and introduced new offerings students love to make up the difference, and then some.
“About 33 percent of students participated in the school lunch program this September, up from 29 percent last September when the school was still part of the federal program,” according to the news site.
The high school’s successful transition, however, apparently doesn’t sit well with federal bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Education, who apparently issued a threat to district officials recently in hopes of changing their minds.
“Dining services director Amanda Venezia said Monday she was told in a conference call last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture may not treat the school as a processing facility,” the Union Leader reports. “The categorization would impose substantial regulatory and financial burdens, she said, require at least one new hire and lots of paperwork.”
As online commenter Wayne Stanley put it, “This is the Chicago Way.
“Succumb to our demands or be crushed by the weight of government,” he wrote.
WMUR reports the government could categorize the high school as a processing facility because it’s where lunches for all district schools are prepared, including district middle and elementary schools that remain in the National School Lunch Program.
“Our whole goal was to provide nutritious lunches at the high school for our students, give them choice, and limit the waste that we saw last year,” superintendent Nathan Greenberg told the site.
Londonderry officials have made numerous improvements to the high school lunch program since last year, including new menu items, installing a snack room and coffee bar, as well as a frozen yogurt machine, which “officials said has sold like gangbusters since its introduction a few days ago.”
School leaders planned to install a salad bar next month.
At yesterday’s school board meeting, board members were livid over the USDA’s meddling.
“To some degree, it feels to us like it’s vindictive, because we made a move to do something that we felt was appropriate for us,” Greenberg said, according to the Union Leader.
“It’s not ‘it feels vindictive.’ It is vindictive,” board vice chairman John Laferriere added.
Venezia and district business administrator Peter Curro explained to board members that the high school gave up commodity products like low price cheese, chicken or fruits for the high school when it opted out of the National School Lunch Program. But a waiver from regional USDA officials allowed the high school to continue to receive the shipments and prepare food for the district’s elementary and middle schools.
The USDA’s national office told school officials they must provide an “accountability and reconciliation plan” to document production and waste in the high school’s kitchen and comply with “more than monthly” inspections to continue its arrangement.
“Venezia told the school board the district receives an annual total of 28,000 cases of commodity products in nine shipments for the elementary and middle schools. But due to the lack of an approved plan this school year, it has already missed three shipments, forcing Venezia to purchase foods privately,” according to the news site.
“We’re being stonewalled, and we’re being held hostage under our own program,” Laferriere said. “Essentially, we want to get off the federal teat. At the end of the day, that’s what it is. And we’re getting penalized for it.”
Board members ultimately decided to send a letter to the governor, state congressional delegation, commissioner of education and possibly local state representative seeking help to resolve the federal boondoggle.