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School Board discusses cafeteria upgrades, system improvements

By Staff | Jan 10, 2012

Many changes may be taking place in the Lee County School District cafeterias to provide more efficiency for students receiving their meal, along with working conditions for district staff.

Food and Nutrition Services Assistant Director Sonny Stelmacki told the Lee School Board Tuesday that food and nutrition services is a self-funded project that does not utilize any dollars from the general budget. He said it is reimbursed through indirect costs.

“It is a business running within a school district,” Stelmacki said. “Our business is running very efficiently.”

The revenue for food and services exceeds the expenses, according to staff.

Stelmacki said they reinvest a part of their revenue back into the department and district for improvements within the schools. A portion of those improvements include cafeteria tables at the schools.

Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke said the the district took a careful look at the surplus that had been found in food and nutrition, which was a sizeable amount of money. He said it was something that the district anticipated the auditors would suggest that they would need to do something with.

Staff conducted a district-wide inventory of cafeteria tables, along with sequencing how the district is going to go about replacing them over the next few years.

Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Alberto Rodriguez said when a private sector gets a surplus it is celebrated, but when a public sector has a surplus it is frowned upon.

He said they asked the question of what they needed to do, not only for the cafeterias in the district, but for the children who attend the schools.

“A rubric was created to assess and evaluate conditions of cafeteria tables at all of our schools,” Rodriguez said. “We did not want to be accused of any favoritism.”

Stelmacki said in a coordinated effort they developed an annual replacement plan that includes district standards for replacement of tables, which will provide better seating opportunities and faster clean-up opportunities.

The first schools to be evaluated this year include Fort Myers High School, Cypress Lake High School, Fort Myers Middle School, Orangewood Elementary School, Gateway Elementary School, Dunbar High School, Edgewood Elementary School, Alva Middle School, Tropic Isles Elementary School, Pine Island Elementary School,J. Colin English Elementary School and Cape High School.

The budget needed per year is $420,000 for the cafeteria table project.

They have already implemented some re-investments for the food and nutrition services. Those include equipment upkeep and upgrades, establishing the Healthy Living Lab Nutritional Education Program, implementing free breakfast for all students, enhancing student menu entree selections, which includes whole grains, along with an increase in fresh fruits and vegetables.

The strategies to make those investments become a reality are to implement a “Point of Sale” meal recording sale to move the line, replace inefficient food service equipment, put air conditioning in the remaining 11 school kitchens, implement automated time and temperature control systems, update records systems and fund food services for new school and remodel equipment.

Stelmacki said the palm reader Point of Sale record system, which is a new technology the district is investigating, would move the students through the serving line at a faster rate.

He said the pin pad bar code scanning system that is currently in place is at the mercy of the students remembering their card or inputting the correct ID number.

“Our current software provider is still testing compatibility,” Stelmacki said.

The scanner system would entail the students placing their palm on the scanner for it to read certain patterns of the veins on their hand.

“I don’t know how I feel about the palm reader,” board member Jeanne Dozier said. “That is a concern to me. Are we invading too much into the lives of the children by doing this.”

She told the staff that she hopes they test that system before putting it into place.

“I think that is a little bit invasive,” Dozier said. “That put a twist in my stomach. Efficiency is one thing, but that is something that really almost gave me something different from heartburn.”

Board member Jane Kuckel asked Dozier how the palm reader is different than a card that has all the same information.

Dozier argued that the card has information that the child’s mom and dad already provided for the system.

“I don’t have enough information about the palm business,” she said. “It is a new concept that scares me to death. I don’t know enough about it to be intelligent about it and right now I am in fear.”

Board Member Don Armstrong agreed with Dozier that the palm reader concerns him as well.

“As a parent with kids in the school system, I am concerned about that as well,” he said. “This does concern me.”

Armstrong said he would like to see that safety is put in place, so the child’s information cannot get out there.

Board Chairman Mary Fischer said that she assumes that the palm reader would be the same as reading fingerprints, which is still provided by the parents.

“It would be cost efficient because the children won’t lose their palms, but will lose their cards,” she said.

The estimated investment amount is $192,000.

Another re-investment strategy includes installing air conditioning in the remaining 11 school kitchens.

The non-air conditioned kitchens in the district include Dunbar High School, J. Colin Elementary School, San Carlos Park Elementary School, Mirror Lakes Elementary School, Varsity Lakes Middle School, Spring Creek Elementary School; Villas Elementary School, Edgewood Elementary School, Royal Palm Exceptional, LAMP and Pine Island Elementary School.

The total cost of the project is $595,000.

The presentation was provided to the board Tuesday, Rodriguez said, so there would be no surprises when the items came before the board for approval in subsequent board meetings.