School Board Discusses Updates to Food Service at Schools

At its last meeting on June 14, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District School Board discussed its current food services program. Among the issues raised with the program are a lack of participation, dissatisfaction with current offerings and accessibility issues. 

“Our ultimate goal with this program is for us to be self-sufficient, if not … [a] profit-making program,” Richard Marchini, SMMUSD director of Food & Nutrition Services, stated during a presentation at the meeting.  

The current food services budget is $3.4 million—split into $2 million for salaries and benefits and $1.3 million for food and supplies. About 10,488 students are enrolled in the program, a number Marchini called low, which results in “making our budget really, really tough.”

Based on information collected by the school district, parents and students would like to see healthier options, freshly prepared food and more vegetarian options as well as gluten-free and vegan options, among other suggestions.

To increase student interest, Marchini presented a few possibilities. The first calls for “freshly prepared meals at central locations to distribute to nearby sites;” for Malibu, this would entail food preparation at Malibu High to distribute at the high school and Point Dume Marine Science School as part of the pilot program. (Currently, students are served warmed-up food at the individual sites.)

To support food preparation, Malibu High’s kitchen would need a number of upgrades, which include a new oven, stove, grill, pizza oven, steamer, slicer and display case; replacing parts for the current aged equipment would prove costly to the school district. For kitchen equipment upgrades at MHS and Santa Monica High School, the school board would have to fork over approximately $700,000. To offset costs, staff proposed a 25 cent increase for breakfast and 50 cent increase for lunch.

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Another suggestion includes installing point-of-sale devices, also known as card readers, for high schools, which would hopefully speed up lines for students who do not always carry cash.

Marchini also brought up a rebranding of the food services program with a contest, similar to the one executed for the school district’s logo from late 2013 to early 2014. The presentation also detailed tapping local chefs to help out and drum up community participation.  

Bonnie Murphy, a student at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, was one of many speakers from all walks of life who attended the meeting to show their support and need for the district’s food services initiative. 

“All we have for hot lunch is one option and it’s usually microwaved food. Now, microwaved food is filled with chemicals, sugars, fats and salts—something that is not good for your brain,” she said. “Once you come back from lunch, you’re not ready to learn.”

“I think better meals in a test kitchen would be great for our district,” Murphy later added.

After an hour or so of discussion, no concrete decisions were made regarding the initiative. 

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