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Trustees OK nutrition policy

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer

A state nutrition wellness policy adopted in a 5-1 vote by the Carson City School District Board of Trustees Tuesday night quashed concerns the district could lose $1.1 million dollars in federal nutrition funding as the result of rejecting the plan.

The district’s nutrition director, fiscal director and legal counsel all recommended that the board approve the policy at the risk of losing money, although it was never definitively clear what the repercussion of a no vote would be.

Trustee James Hukari, the sole dissenting voice, said he refused to rubber-stamp the policy, and encouraged other trustees to follow suit.

“Let’s see what the consequences are,” he said.

The state, as mandated by federal legislation, is requiring all 17 school districts adopt a wellness policy by the end of June.

“I really don’t know what the impact (of a no vote) would be, but it is a federally mandated law, and it is a public law,” said nutrition director Bonnie Eastwood.

Bob Anderson, fiscal director for the district, said Carson City schools received $1.1 million in federal compensation for free-and-reduced lunch meals and food sales commodities in the past year.

“I think you’re putting that at risk if you don’t approve the plan,” he told the board.

More than 31 percent of district students benefit from free or reduced lunch prices. The district’s largest aggregate is at Empire Elementary School, where 69 percent of students received free or reduced-price lunch. The smallest percentage is at Carson High, with 16 percent on the free- and-reduced lunch plan.

District attorney Todd Russell twice told the board he thought the risk of a no vote was loss of funding. He mentioned a board policy that requires trustees to support the district nutrition program.

As part of their approval of the policy, trustees are requiring the district superintendent write a letter to the Nevada Department of Education expressing concern about how the policy was implemented.

The federal government gave states the option to develop their own policy or give that authority to districts to create their own. The Nevada Department of Education chose to develop its own criteria and require the districts adopt it – the reason why Hukari voted against the policy.

“Nobody ever asked over on fifth street for our input,” he said.

The state acted similarly when enacting its own version of No Child Left Behind, he said.

“I’m opposed to this. I’m opposed to the way it’s being done.”

The state wellness policy regulates what can be sold in school a half-hour on either end of the school day. The policy prohibits sodas and caffeine, and limits total fat calories in foods to 30 percent of the product. Sugar is limited to 35 percent by weight per serving.

District schools will seek a one-year reprieve for the portion of the plan that requires recess before lunch.

Carson High’s student activities fund is supported through sales of food products in the vending machines and student store.

“In the student store, we sell candy and soft drinks and potato chips and P.E. clothes and things like that,” said Cheryl Stoddard, CHS director of student activities. “It is a concern of mine, that there will be a drop in sales. But what is happening in Clark County and Washoe County, where this has been implemented for a couple of years, is the kids are buying other things. Yes, there’s a drop in revenue, but kids buy what’s available.”

She’s been told that in schools where the wellness policy is in effect, profits are 80-85 percent of what they were previously.

“And actually, with the guidelines that have been set up, the kids will still have a good selection of things they can buy for snacks, but certainly they’ll be healthier.”