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New food service initiative could save Mitchell School District $25K

An increase in participation coupled with lower food purchasing costs could save the Mitchell School District big bucks in the near future. During this week's Mitchell Board of Education meeting, Business Manager Steve Culhane emphasized the food...

Students eat lunch on Monday in the cafeteria at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell. The cafeteria will see cosmetic changes during Spring Break next semester. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)
Students eat lunch at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)

An increase in participation coupled with lower food purchasing costs could save the Mitchell School District big bucks in the near future.

During this week's Mitchell Board of Education meeting, Business Manager Steve Culhane emphasized the food service fund for FY18 is "very good" due to the efforts of the Food Service Director Leann Carmody. The food service and driver's education funds were reviewed during the board's Monday meeting.

The board made a goal last summer to increase student participation in the lunch programs across the district, as well as save money in purchasing.

Carmody has been hard at work meeting the goal. And the newest initiative, which includes working together with three other South Dakota school districts, could save Mitchell $25,000.

Culhane and Carmody explained that within the next few weeks the Mitchell School District will be working together with Brookings, Brandon and Yankton school districts to issue a "massive" request for proposal (RFP). She describes the four school districts as a large food buying group.

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Each school district will receive a scorecard, and rate the food provided by the company, allowing all of the schools to save money by joining forces.

"I think it's very advantageous for us, four schools instead of one," Culhane said. "... So hopefully we'll see some significant savings by doing this."

Compared to last year, Culhane predicted the school could save $25,000 and he credits the large savings to Carmody, and the three other food service directors for all of the "behind the scenes" work.

And the savings made from the food buying group will be on top of the savings Carmody is already making by increasing student participation. The food service fund is still in the preliminary stages, Culhane said, and a more accurate amount of savings will be reported to the board at a later date.

School board members congratulated Carmody for her efforts, noting the difference she is making in the school. This included Neil Putnam, who serves as vice president and holds a position with the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

"This is remarkable compared to what I've been hearing on a national scale with school lunches and how you've been able to turn it around," Putnam said to Carmody during the meeting. "You should be strongly commended for that. Nonetheless, some regulatory relief would still be nice."

Both Longfellow Elementary and the Mitchell Middle School cafeterias saw upgrades this year, leading to increased student participation. Both dining spaces were enhanced with fresh decor and a new name. Longfellow's cafeteria is now called the Lion's Den, while the middle school's dining space is called Fear the Ear Cafe.

And by the end of this year, Carmody wants to upgrade the spaces at both L.B. Williams and Gertie Belle Rogers elementary schools. The high school will also be getting new equipment.

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School board president Deb Olson applauded Carmody, adding that she's having a large impact on students.

"Participation rates are near and dear to me because if (students) are eating well, they're going to learn and we all know when they pack their own lunches and what they bring is not good nutrition, so I'm most happy about the participation rates increase," Olson said.

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