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Westport Opts Out of State's Healthy School Lunch Program

"These standards are so rigorous that we couldn't operate our school food services in an affordable manner," Westport Superintendent of Schools Dr. Elliott Landon told the school board members.

For the third year in a row, the on Monday voted to opt-out of the State of Connecticut's Healthy Food Certification program.

"These standards are so rigorous that we couldn't operate our school food services in an affordable manner," Dr. Elliott Landon told the board members during the meeting at .

As Landon explained, each year the school district must, by law, certify with the state whether it is following the Connecticut Nutrition Standards for all foods sold to students, separately from reimbursable school meals. The rigorous program is specific about what types of foods and drinks can be served, with guidelines listing "recipes" for food items, including the types of ingredients that can be used. What's more the restrictions apply to school events such as bakesale fundraisers.

Landon said although the district does not participate in the state's program, it nevertheless works with the local Food Service Advisory Committee, "and everything we offer is in accordance with healthy food standards."

"It's just that the state's [Healthy Food Certification] standards are so rigorous… there are certain items that just aren't doable," he said.

"This is the most counterintuitive vote we take every year," said board member Mark Mathias. "Certainly I think Westport prides itself for its collective cultural consciousness of healthy eating and what good food is all about."

He asked Landon to provide examples of what the district would lose if it opted to participate in the program.

"For example, all our condiments would have to be low sugar and low sodium varieties," Landon said. In addition the school system would have to provide cooked grains — plus it would have to reduce the amount of salt it uses in all cooking, he said.

In addition the program would ban caffeine in all schools — which Landon said he feared would lead to high school students "racing to go to Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts in the morning, endangering themselves in so doing."

Board Vice Chairman James Marpe recalled that one problem with the state's program is that "the portion size requirements don't work… When we reduced the size of the hamburgers… students just bought two hamburgers instead of one."

Marpe added that many students were angered by this as they felt it was a financial detriment, "because now they had to pay for two hamburgers instead of one."

"While the legislation was well-intended, it just doesn't work for us, for a number of reasons," Marpe said.

Landon added that by working with the Food Services Advisory Committee, "we've managed to cut the size of the cookies in half… so now you have to buy two."

If the district adopted the state's standards, Landon said, they would have to be extended down into the elementary schools, making it costly to implement.

Landon said by not agreeing to the restrictions, "the district can offer a greater range of choices to all students." He added that most other school districts in the region have opted out of the program.

In other news the board set tuition rates for the 2012-2013 school year.

"We do not accept non-resident students, but there are circumstances under which residents might move out of town [before the school year ends] or change circumstances, and are required to pay tuition," Landon said. "We also use the tuition rates to calculate how much our non-resident staff members pay when they enroll their children in our schools."

Landon said this year's figures represent a 2.17 percent increase, in keeping with the general budget increase.

The full non-resident tuition for an elementary school student is now $14,663; the rate for a middle school student is $20,532; and the rate for a high school student is $21,990.

Full non-resident tuition costs were determined using as formula that gives a close approximation of actual per-student costs.

Employee tuition for an elementary school student is now set at $3,666; the rate for a middle school student is $5,133; and the rate for a high school student is $5,496.

A total of 29 children of employees were enrolled in the Westport schools last year and the school administration expects the same number this year.

Nina Streitfeld June 05, 2012 at 01:14 PM
If our affluent Westport cannot manage to deliver a level of healthy food to its children, what hope is there for the less blessed communities of our nation? Nina Streitfeld
Nina Streitfeld June 05, 2012 at 01:15 PM
It our affluent Town of Westport cannot manage to deliver a standard of healthy food to its children what hope is there for less blessed communities in our nation?
Gaelle Dudley June 05, 2012 at 06:12 PM
In addition to serving "pink slime" this is absolutely unacceptable.
Gaelle Dudley June 05, 2012 at 06:12 PM
This is just embarrassing... Is "pink slime" also still being served? I believe so!!
Michele H June 06, 2012 at 05:26 PM
If you don't like whats being served, pack an acceptable lunch and send it with your child. It is really not all that difficult. Take charge of what your kids are eating and teach them what is and is not acceptable. There are enough healthy offerings to choose from at both the elementary school and middle school level.
Christy Colasurdo June 06, 2012 at 07:35 PM
It's all about the almighty dollar, y'all. We take the government cheese, so we have to offer up our kids a bunch of crap so that we get the subsidies. I own an organic foods business and I do pack my kids' lunches, but wouldn't it be nice if our schools put the kids first and raised the bar like so many other schools by offering good, local food options at lunch? What if these foods met not just the bare minimum nutritional standards but our standards for foods that are fresh and appealing, not just re-heated, re-packaged TV dinner foods and iceberg lettuce salads out of of ziploc bag! We can do better, folks, but it's easier to make pretend that Chartwell's is serving up high-quality offerings. As a large institutional food service, they do the best they can, but we can (and should) fight for some high-quality fresh, local foods that aren't industrial and unappetizing. We could offer great choices and quality if we were willing to get off the dole. If we put the kids first. If we cared. It starts at the top and this is just not a priority of the current administration, which seems to be unaware of the green foods movement sweeping the nation.
Longtime Westporter June 07, 2012 at 02:13 PM
This is awful news! We need to provide coffee to 15 year olds and are in fear that they might drive too fast to Starbucks to pick it up? I would love the school system to LEAD instead of put money first with our kids' health. Perhaps the size of the hamburger is what someone that age should eat, and if they want to buy twice as much, should we pay for it? I hope parents in town lobby for good fresh local foods that help teach students what really tastes good. Otherwise they'll become parents and still offer sugary cereals and foods with high-fructose corn syrup because they've become so addicted to sugar themselves.

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