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Manager pleased with county schools' food program

July 31, 2000

Manager pleased with county schools' food program



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


Gary DoddsStudents are not only sniffing the aroma from the Washington County Public Schools' kitchens, but they're chowing down too.

At least that's Gary Dodds, supervisor of the Board's Food Services department said.

Dodds said the program is making enough money to support itself and hasn't had to raise food prices to cover additional costs in three years.

At the same time, he said the variety and quality of food have increased.

"If (students) don't like the food, we're out of business," Dodds said.

Board member Andrew Humphreys said his children, who are students in the school system, talk about the quality of food.

"My kids said the food tastes good for a change. I keep hearing that on a regular basis," Humphreys said at a recent School Board meeting.

The program runs on a $4.9 million self-supportive budget, with most of the revenue coming from food sales, Dodds said. A portion of that comes from the state, based on percentages of those students receiving free or reduced lunches, Dodds said.

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About $100,000 of the budget is spent yearly to upgrade equipment, in addition to paying for administrators' salaries and transportation costs. Salaries take up about 70 percent of the budget, he said.

Lunch in elementary schools cost $1.30, while lunch in the high schools is $1.55. The average state cost of lunch in Maryland public schools is $1.62.

He also said the addition of ala carte foods, which include items like ice cream, Snapple beverages, pizza, sandwich wraps, bread sticks, chicken patties and pretzels, is a big boost to its budget.

"About 20 percent of our revenue comes from ala carte food," Dodds said. "We can do it all on our own if we sell these ala carte foods. (Students) enjoy them, and we need the extra revenue."

But the program isn't stopping there. It has recently joined the Maryland State Food Co-op Program, which allows the school system to increase purchasing variety at lower costs. Dodds is able to purchase all its food from one company - Carroll County Foods - instead of putting different food items out for bid to different companies.

As a result, the school system saved $70,000, Dodds said.

The Food Services Department is also expanding its breakfast services to three more schools: Bester, Hancock and Marshall Street elementary schools. The program began at Winter Street Elementary School in 1998.

Under the program, all students, regardless of income, are eligible for free breakfast. County students ate breakfast 9,000 times during the first year of the program. That number jumped to 42,000 last year.

"It has really caught on, and it's an important part of the food program," Dodds said. "It's built around the premise that hungry students cannot learn."

Studies have shown that behavior problems and school nurse visits have declined at Winter Street, while attendance and test scores have improved, according to Dodds. He attributes those factors to students eating healthy breakfasts daily.

"It's a relaxed atmosphere," Dodds said. "Students eat in a family-type setting. They eat before class begins outside of the cafeteria, and the teachers eat with the students. Students really enjoy that."

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett agrees.

"When we started the breakfast program there was a belief that it wouldn't work," Bartlett said at a board meeting. "I believe we are the only school system in Maryland that expanded to the level that we have. We hope to offer it in every school."

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