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PACOIMA : Charter Schools Push to Run Meal Programs

East Valley Focus

April 20, 1994|SUSAN BYRNES

Hoping to boost membership in the clean-plate club on their campuses, the San Fernando Valley's two charter schools have asked the school district for freedom to run their own breakfast and lunch programs.

Administrators from the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center and Fenton Avenue Elementary School will meet with Los Angeles Unified School District officials today to discuss proposals they say would improve menus, serve students more quickly, reduce waste and offer more culturally sensitive food.

"There are many children who don't eat their lunch," said Joseph Lucente, principal of Fenton. "They just throw it away."

Charter schools receive public funding but are free from state and local education regulations to write their own rules. Most of the 33 charter schools in the state use district food services, but Lucente and Vaughn Principal Yvonne Chan believe the fare could be improved.

"Most of it is cooked somewhere else, wrapped, shipped, frozen and reheated," Chan said. "For many of my kids, this is the only meal they have all day."

In order to encourage students to eat more, the charter schools propose to hire private food service companies and work with them to include fresher, more culturally sensitive fare in the menus.

In addition, the schools would change the way lunch is served. About 98% of Vaughn students and more than 90% of Fenton students qualify to receive free lunch at school under a federal nutrition program. But because so many students use the free tickets at mealtime, the ticket line is often long and slow-moving. Sometimes, it takes longer to stand in line than eat lunch. Chan said a faster system, such as a turnstile or bar code to count students, would allow children more time to sit down and enjoy their lunches.

The school district has asked the state to allow the charter schools to receive their nutrition funding directly--bypassing the district--as private schools do. Warren Lund, director of the district's food services branch, said if the request is denied, the district is willing to negotiate with the charter schools about the amount of flexibility, and liability, they will have.

"We are not just going to pass through funds to them and keep the responsibility for operating the district program," Lund said. "If they want that complete flexibility, they have to have responsibility at the same time."

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