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McKee bill extends school lunch

March 01, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Perhaps there is no free lunch.

But Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, would like to make lunchtime a little longer for local students.

McKee has sponsored legislation to require Washington County high schools to give students an hour for lunch.

McKee told the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday that students from South Hagerstown High School asked for longer lunch periods when he served as a guest teacher in a government class.

They have 30 minutes for lunch but complained that by the time they spend 25 minutes of it in cafeteria lines, "basically, they have five minutes to swallow whole the lunch that they bought," McKee said.

He said he's gotten calls from parents at Smithsburg High School and from parents of some middle school students with the same complaint.

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"I have an obligation to represent all my constituents, not just the voting adults," he said.

McKee said some schools begin serving lunch at 10 a.m. in order to get all the students fed.

"School starts at 9," he said.

Del. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, asked McKee if he had consulted the Washington County Board of Education. McKee said he talked to Gary Dodds, supervisor of food and nutrition services, who said he would look into the situation.

The school board filed written opposition to the bill, saying it would cost nearly $3.5 million to give students a full hour for lunch.

According to a letter from Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan's office, Dodds estimated the labor budget for food service would rise by $558,552 because of increased hours in the kitchen. To compensate, lunches would cost at least 55 cents more.

Starting and ending times for school days would change as well, affecting bus schedules. That would cost another $1.1 million, Transportation Director Chris Carter said.

Extending the work day for teachers and support staff would cost another $1.7 million, estimated Chris South, director of budget and finance.

The letter contended that school administrators reported no problems with the half-hour lunch periods.

"The greatest number of behavioral problems occurs at the end of lunch shifts," the letter said. "Increasing the time for lunch will also increase the potential for disciplinary problems."

McKee purchased one prepackaged lunch for every member of the Ways and Means Committee and dared them to devour them in five minutes.

They were waiting in the committee's refrigerator, he said.

"Did you put names on them? Because you know some of them will eat two," warned committee Chairman Sheila Hixson.

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