KAIT8: Rick Crawford hosts summit in Jonesboro for school lunches

Rick Crawford hosts summit in Jonesboro for school lunches

The Nutrition Summit was held at the Nettleton Performing Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Congressman Crawford said he wanted to host the summit to look at the costs and effect of implementing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Congressman Crawford said in his opening remarks the Act was “well-intentioned, but its effects on schools has opened the door to massive amounts of unintended consequences.”

The USDA estimates the new regulations will “cost up to $6.8 billion over a five-year window, which schools will mostly have to come up with on their own,” according to Congressman Crawford.

A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers listened as school administrators voiced their concerns about the new guidelines.  The issues they talked about included the breakdown of amicable relationships between cafeteria workers and students, the cost of buying more fruits and vegetables administrators say students throw away, and unreasonably smaller portions that leave students hungry, and increased paperwork for food service staff.

The lawmakers in attendance were Senator Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home), Senator Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro), Representative Andrea Lea (R-Russellville), and Jody Dickinson (D-Newport).

The school administrators included nine school district superintendents: James Dunivan from Nettleton Public Schools, Mitch Walton from Sloan-Hendriz Public Schools, Jerry Noble from Greene County Tech, Myra Graham from Trumann Public Schools, Charlie Powell from Piggott Public Schools, Gary Masters from South Mississippi County School District, Roger Rich from Southside School District, Dr. Melvin Bryant from Stuttgart School District, and Dr. Bryan Duffie from Westside School District.

Cabot School Board Member Ricky Hill and Mountain Home parent Angela Justman were also panelists.

Westside Superintendent Dr. Bryan Duffie told lawmakers his district is facing a the possibility of a $40,000 shortfall because more students bring their lunches from home. “By federal regs and state regs food service cannot have any negative balances basically. So it is up to the school districts to fork over that money to break even.”

Dr. Duffie said Westside has not had make up for a loss in the past couple of years, but it is a possibility as students continue to reject the new lunches. “It’s hard to predict if those kids are going to decide,’Oh, we’re going to eat lunch today,’ and do we have enough food.”

Dr. Duffie gave Congressman Crawford 300-400 letters from Westside students, parents, and staff who oppose the new guidelines. Dr. Duffie read one of the letters out loud, saying, “Dear Mr. Crawford, our garbage cans are full. Our children are not. Do something.”

Several of the superintendents voiced support of the idea of building menus according to what the students do and do not discard, however Mountain Home parent Angela Justman did not support that idea.

“As a mother I experience this daily at my house. If we let the children run everything nothing would get accomplished. They would be unhealthy,” Justman said. “It goes back to the underlying problem of obesity. Parents have to get more involved.”

Justman said healthier school menus are long overdue, but the program needs to be revised.

“I do appreciate the effort to get our children healthier.  I think it is extremely important. Every program starts out with a learning curve. I think we just need to tweak it a little bit and maybe put a little bit more control at the local level where we know our students individually.”

Congressman Crawford, who is a member of the Agriculture Committee’s Nutrition Subcommittee, also believes working with local agencies will aid the federal government in making the new guidelines more cost efficient and appealing to students.

“The schools are in a good position to identify the needs of their students, much better position than a Washington bureaucrat,” he said. “The USDA is working well outside of its original charter and now is in the business of determining the amount of calories, fat and sodium students should consume in a given school day.”

Congressman Crawford also  agreed with administrators about the need to consider implementing more physical activity in schools.

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