To cook or not to cook? How to allocate $10M is the question.

In November 2014 BVSD voters approved a $576.5 million bond program that is based upon the recommendations and findings from Educational Facilities Master Plan.

One of the recommendations in the Educational Facilities Master Plan is to allocate ~$10M on a new central kitchen at the Education Center on Arapahoe.

While it is commendable that BVSD is being a leader and thinking out of the box in providing this level of infrastructure to healthily feed the more than 30,000 students it serves, without trying to malign a sacred Boulder cow, ten million dollars is a significant capital investment to provide a non-core service that could be provided by a team of local, businesses whose business and livelihood are based upon  providing healthy, nutritious, organic, locally-sourced food at a reasonable price.

This is a  controversial position to take in Boulder County, Colorado, home to the nationally known, renegade chef, Ann Cooper.

However, it might be prudent to rethink the assumptions and reaffirm the plan that went into earmarking significant BVSD capital funds to provide “from-scratch” school lunches.

This opinion is based upon three issues:

  1. Manpower with stamina
  2. Opportunity within the area from local, aligned food providers
  3. Divergence from core BVSD mission

Issue 1: Manpower with stamina

What stirred attention to this issue was the 23 September 2015 email from Sarah Acker of BVSD Food Services:

Dear BVSD Parents and Guardians ~

Are you looking for part time hours?

Do you want to be more involved with your child’s school?

Would you like to work the same schedule as your BVSD student?

Please apply to work as a Food Service Assistant at Boulder Valley School District. We really need your help serving healthy, delicious food to students in our schools!

$11.57 per hour – commensurate with experience. Shifts are generally two to three hours a day, Monday-Friday. Food Service Substitute positions also available!

BVSD cannot fill the positions or retain people required to provide the current school lunches!

Is hiring, training and retaining food service workers a prudent use of scarce BVSD resources?

Issue 2: The local food scene has changed since 2008

The BVSD Nutrition Services Feasibility Study completed in 2008 brought knife-sharp focus to school lunch quality.  [My strongest objection to this study is the removal of chocolate milk, a swimmers perfect recovery drink, from the school lunch program.]

Since that report was written, a cornucopia of healthy fast food providers have entered the local market that could support an alternate approach, such as:

  • Panera offers squeezable organic yogurt, all-natural peanut butter sandwiches, and grilled organic cheese on white whole-grain bread. Panera could offer lunch on Mondays in BVSD.
  • Jason’s Deli offers organic food – about one-fifth of all Jason’s Deli ingredients are organic. Jason’s Deli could offer lunch on Tuesdays in BVSD
  • Noodles and Company – kids could order noodle bowl options with lean proteins—hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu. Noodles and Company could offer Wednesday school lunch in BVSD.
  • Chipotle is committed to providing organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from local suppliers- Wow! Chipotle could offer lunch on Thursdays in BVSD.
  • Oops, now I’m stuck, hmm – a local restaurant like Protein Bar could provide school lunch on Fridays in BVSD.

Locally-sourced, organic, Boulder County food providers have evolved in the past 7-8 years and are abundant.  Again, it might be prudent to pause and rethink funding allocation options before proceeding on a path of investing a significant amount of capital in significant infrastructure.

Issue 3: Divergence from BVSD core

Finally, providing from-scratch school lunch is a good thing to do but is not core to the BVSD mission.

After reviewing the BVSD Vision, Mission, Values and Goals  to correlate support for providing from-scratch school lunches to students, it is not apparent that providing a from-scratch school lunch to offer to BVSD’s 30,000 students is a core service.

Shifting the function of providing BVSD school lunches to local, healthy-food providers is an idea that has the following merits:

  1. Reduces the administrative burden of hiring, training and retaining qualified, dedicated school lunch workers.
  2. Shifts the strict food service cleanliness principles to local vendors that have to adhere to them for their business. Food handling is tricky and training-intensive to avoid illness and vermin.
  3. Allows BVSD to focus on its Vision, Mission, Values and Goals.
  4. Frees ~$10M in capital budget for other capital improvements, such as a competitive aquatic venue (note: the 10M may be a placeholder for un-earmarked funds to cover unforeseen costly repairs for other parts of the building repairs and refurbishment – a wise and prudent thing to do).

The last bullet is a segue to the next post – The Top Ten Reasons why BVSD should be a partner in a Boulder County aquatic facility.


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