The Laguna Beach Unified School District board voted Tuesday to extend contracts for two nutrition consultants filling in for the district's food services director, who is on medical leave.
Registered dietitian Melissa Manning will be paid an amount not to exceed $39,000, while Megan Hartshorne, also a registered dietitian, will be paid an amount not to exceed $79,000, according to a district staff report.
Each will be paid $75 per hour, and they must foot the bill for any expenses incurred in doing their jobs, the staff report said.
Contracts for Manning and Hartshorne run through June 30, 2014, but can be adjusted depending on when food services director Debra Appel returns from leave, assistant superintendent of business services Dean West confirmed at the board meeting.
Hartshorne and Manning will be paid from SchoolPower donations and the district's general fund, the staff report said.
The actual amount from SchoolPower, an organization that raises funds for all four district schools, has not been determined, but district staff will meet with the group this fall, West said.
In January, SchoolPower agreed to pay Hartshorne to help out the nutrition program, according to the staff report.
Both Hartshorne and Manning have been working at the district since late last year, according to West, who said Appel has been on leave since March 27.
Hartshorne will train staff, meet with students to gather their feedback, analyze costs and revenue for student meals, update menus and make sure they meet federal standards, and promote in-class health and nutrition segments, according to the staff report.
Manning will review current menus and adjust them as necessary to comply with National School Lunch Program standards.
She will also meet monthly with each school's food service manager, post nutrition information online by the first of each month, help with weekly food ordering and send monthly updates to employees and school board members that include new products and purchasing information.
"Megan is more hands-on, at the schools, giving lessons on nutrition," Supt. Sherine Smith said at the meeting. "Melissa does auditing, making sure we comply with regulations."
Amy Jackson, whose daughter who will be a senior at Laguna Beach High School this fall, said by phone Thursday that the teen always takes her lunch to school because she says the quality of the food from the district's kitchens is subpar.
When a local restaurant serves its food on campus, students must get in line quickly or they might miss out, Jackson said.
"When they have good food, such as from a Chinese restaurant, the kids serve themselves, and the first 25 kids eat the entire bin," the mother said.
Jackson said positive steps have been made in the last 15 years, including bringing salad bars to the campuses, and commended Appel for helping enhance the nutrition program.
"She's worked so hard and is trying to do so well," Jackson said of Appel. "I'm not pointing the finger at her. This is a big area that is open for change. The consultants [Hartshorne] and [Manning] could be the innovative change we're looking for. This is a time to address all the food issues: serving food in a better way, and serving naturally and organically produced food. Why not shoot for that and see what happens?"
The Berkeley Unified School District's nutrition program offers a model that Laguna Beach Unified might want to consider, Jackson suggested at the meeting.
The Berkeley school district serves hormone- and antibiotic-free milk at breakfast, organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, and hamburgers made from grass-fed beef, the district's website said. Also, whole wheat or grains are included in all baked products.
Students in the Berkeley district also have hands-on gardening and cooking-based nutrition classes, according to the district website.
Laguna Beach Unified has taken strides the past five years to offer healthy food to students, board member Betsy Jenkins said.
"Debra Appel is just going gang-busters making contacts with fresh organic food providers," Jenkins said. "SchoolPower asked us to push nutrition and we did that. [Hartshorne] and [Manning] have helped us move forward with educational outreach and meal planning.
"Is it done? Not even close."
Laguna resident Sheri Morgan, who has four kids attending district schools, suggested looking at outside vendors to provide food, to which board president William Landsiedel replied: "There are state and federal guidelines. We can't just go out and get [food] trucks to come to schools. The number of calories are regulated."
"I don't think what the state would require should be dismissed," Morgan said. "I'm saying can the district at least look at [contracting with outside vendors]?"
Morgan said her kids, who range from elementary- to high school-age, seem to echo Jackson's daughter's feelings about the food at school.
"My kids take their lunch," Morgan said. "They say the food is either not good or the lines are too long."
Food choices run the gamut across the district's four campuses.
At El Morro Elementary School, lunches offered last May included whole grain cheese lasagna with cucumber salad, turkey soft tacos with a three-bean salad and sloppy joe's with sweet potato wedges, the district's website said.
Laguna Beach High School's breakfast menu said items had no high-fructose corn syrup. The offerings included bagels, muffins, cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches and burritos, according to the website.
At Thurston, lunch choices were chicken burgers, hamburgers, hot dogs, and bean or chili cheese burritos. All entrees are served with milk, fresh fruit and vegetable, according to the website.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, board members voted to keep lunch prices at their current rates for next school year.
Breakfast will stay at $2.90, while lunch will remain at $3.90, the staff report said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now