Government-subsidized breakfasts aren't on the table in all Westside schools. In Beverly Hills schools and on some Santa Monica and Malibu campuses, officials say the demand for free and low-cost breakfasts is so meager that the programs can't be justified.
But that's not the case throughout the Westside. All Los Angeles Unified schools on the Westside offer subsidized breakfasts--even those in Pacific Palisades, where the program serves youths bused from low-income areas.
In the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District, free and reduced-cost breakfasts are offered at four elementary schools, a middle school and both high schools.
And last month, Culver City Unified applied for a federal grant to start a breakfast program at La Ballona Elementary.
The availability of school breakfasts has become a hot topic amid recent reports in The Times of hungry schoolchildren in suburbia. State officials say the reports have helped spur unusually heavy demand by schools to receive breakfast subsidies.
Any school can offer a subsidized breakfast program. Currently, the government offers a special incentive--a higher reimbursement rate--to "severe need" schools, those with 40% or more low-income children.
On the Westside, officials say that in some schools, breakfast programs have been a flop. Until three years ago, Culver City offered subsidized breakfasts in all its schools, but the program was cut back because demand was low and the breakfasts--though partly funded by the government--were costing the district $100,000 a year.
"There was low participation," said James Crawford, the district's director of business services. "People realized it wasn't operating efficiently."
That is not expected to be the case at La Ballona.
Principal Dale Petrulis said that while discussing ways to improve student health care, parents, teachers and administrators agreed there was a great need for a breakfast program at La Ballona, where nearly half of the 485 students qualify for free and reduced-cost breakfasts.
The breakfast program at La Ballona, Crawford said, is scheduled to start by the end of January, pending approval of the grant by federal officials and final approval of the program by the school board. The school board is scheduled to discuss the matter Tuesday.
In Santa Monica/Malibu Unified, almost half of the district's nearly 10,000 students are eligible for free and reduced-price breakfasts, said Rodney Taylor, the district's food services director. But only about 700 students take advantage of the breakfast program, he said.
Taylor says that in some schools there is simply a lack of interest among students.
"At Muir Elementary, only 40 kids eat breakfast," Taylor said. "That (low participation) doesn't justify the program."
Taylor acknowledges that one can argue that the program is justified because it keeps 40 children from going hungry in the school, where 175 students are eligible for the breakfasts out of an enrollment of 341.
But he says school districts must also keep costs in mind. One potentially high cost of offering the breakfasts, he said, is giving full-time jobs to food service employees now working on a part-time basis.
"You need more labor to supervise breakfast," he said. "(District officials) don't want to hear that we lost $60,000 running a breakfast program. That money could go toward instructional materials."
But in Santa Monica/Malibu, as in Culver City, there are places where the demand for free and low-price breakfasts is strong. Edison Elementary, where 85% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts, has the highest breakfast program participation in the district--300 students out of a total enrollment of 400.
Taylor said he wishes more students in the other schools would take advantage of the breakfast program.
"We sent letters home, in English and Spanish, that explain the breakfast program, explaining that kids learn better with breakfast," said Taylor, who has been at Santa Monica/Malibu two years. While participation has improved in the last two years, he said, "I'm still not excited about the numbers."
He cites several possible reasons for the low turnout. Some school buses don't arrive on campuses in time for the breakfasts, which start at 8 a.m., and in some cases kids balk at the menu.