Unified school district may ban flavored milk in local schools

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Also, Superintendent Tim Cuneo apologizes to the mother of a hate crime

victim, and the board clashes with the district’s chief financial officer about next year’s budget.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

After a group of parents protested the negative nutritional effects of flavored milk for students at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education meeting last week, the board agreed to consider a ban on the milk at its first meeting in July.

The meeting last week also featured several sharp exchanges between board members and the district’s chief financial officer about releasing a list of potential cuts in services, and Superintendent Tim Cuneo apologized to the parent of a victim of a recent hate crime at Santa Monica High School for not notifying her of the incident.

Several parents of students in Santa Monica protested the presence of flavored milk in district cafeterias at the board’s June 16 meeting, arguing that the milk is not nutritious and serving it in SMMUSD schools contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic. One parent poured eight ounces of regular milk into a glass, then proceeded to add seven spoonfuls of sugar to demonstrate how much extra sugar is contained in eight ounces of flavored milk, the equivalent she said of the amount of sugar recommended for children for an entire day. The Los Angeles Unified School District had voted two days earlier to ban flavored milk in school cafeterias, becoming the largest school system in the nation to do so.

The board appeared receptive to the parents’ proposal, and several members spoke in favor of banning flavored milk immediately.

“I don’t understand why at this point we would have another carton of flavored milk on our campuses Š unless someone proved to us that it’s actually beneficial,” Board member Ralph Mechur said.

Board Vice President Ben Allen agreed, and proposed that the board entertain a discussion on banning flavored milk at its first meeting in July. Allen added that he would like the board to have a comprehensive discussion about overall student wellness and nutrition at a future meeting in August.

“It’s high time the board have a discussion about this,” Allen said.

Board clashes with CFO

As the board prepares to vote on a budget for the 2011-12 school year at its next meeting June 30, several board members clashed with district CFO Jan Maez over whether to include a list of possible future cuts along with the budget.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier in the day had vetoed a proposed budget by fellow Democrats, insisting on extensions of sales, vehicle and income taxes or deep spending cuts to balance the state’s budget. Maez said that despite the uncertainty, the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), which oversees all school districts in the county, was urging its districts to prepare for a loss of state funding in the amount of $330 per student, per day of attendance. The cost in that scenario to SMMUSD would be approximately $3.6 million.

Maez said if the district did not include a list of possible cuts, the county office could conclude SMMUSD is not serious about fiscal responsibility and could punish it by withholding the salary of its superintendent.

But several board members argued that releasing a list of layoffs and programs to cut would unnecessarily antagonize both district employees and the community. They noted none of the budget proposals put forth so far by Brown, the Democrats or the Republicans in the Legislature include cuts to K-12 education.

“I’m prepared for us little guys to say to LACOE, unless you’re going to take over the district, we’re not going to do this,” Board member Ralph Mechur said.

Superintendent apologizes to mother

Also at last week’s meeting, Superintendent Tim Cuneo apologized to the mother of a student who was the victim of a hate crime May 4 at Santa Monica High School for not notifying her of the incident. Victoria Gray’s son, who is African American, was allegedly held down by a teammate in the wrestling team’s locker room as another slipped a lock through his belt loop and chained him to a locker. A noose was left nearby. According to reports of the event, the two boys allegedly left the room shouting, “Slave for sale.”

While the two boys were suspended and ordered to attend counseling, and other parents of wrestling team members learned of the incident, Gray did not find out what happened until three and a half weeks later, when a fellow parent called and told her. Gray’s son did not tell her because he wanted to downplay the incident.

“It was our failure not to inform you, and I publicly apologize to you,” Cuneo told Gray at the meeting. Cuneo said he had earlier apologized to Gray in private on behalf of the school district.