ACSD to bring school food services in-house

In general, what happens with management companies is that participation is a bit lower, because kids tend to not like the food as much (as locally procured food).
— ACSD Business Manager Brittany Gilman

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District is close to hiring its first-ever food services director, a position officials believe will ultimately allow the ACSD to feed its students more efficiently while using more locally sourced ingredients.
The district currently uses two separate management systems for its food programming.
It uses an in-house food program for its elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. Staff in those schools are in charge of food purchases, preparation and coordination of meals.
“There’s little central oversight of (individual food operations), so each food service director is supervised by the principal in the building,” ACSD Business Manager Brittany Gilman said.
She and Bill Waller, one of the district’s finance officers, handle much of the accounting, paperwork and compliance issues related to food services at those six graded schools.
“The folks in the schools do a really great job of preparing and serving local food that students enjoy eating,” Gilman said, “but they’re really burdened by some of the regulatory and compliance issues.”
Meanwhile, a company called The Abbey Group manages food services for Mary Hogan Elementary and Middlebury Union middle and high schools. Abbey Group has been able to source some local food, though much of its supply comes through an Essex Junction company called Reinhart Foodservice LLC.
“In general, what happens with management companies is that participation is a bit lower, because kids tend to not like the food as much (as locally procured food),” Gilman said. “We’ve been happy with The Abbey Group, but we want to build toward a vision of a really great, in-house program that focuses on local foods and produce.”
The three Middlebury schools will continue their relationship with The Abbey Group for one more year, while building toward a district-wide food program under the new director.
“Part of the hope for this person is to create more of a unified district approach, and to be able to achieve some efficiency through ordering and purchasing in a more centralized way,” Gilman said. “Also, we’d like to free up more time for the folks doing food service to do what they do best: making meals for the kids, and perhaps being able to do more of the nutrition education piece — bridging that gap between the classroom and the cafeteria.”
She noted the new food service director will be asked to network with other potential Addison County allies in providing the healthiest and most cost-effective dining options. For example, Gilman wants to see the director check in with managers of the relatively new food service cooperative that serves the Mount Abraham and Addison Northwest unified school districts. The cooperative has drawn great reviews.
“They run an amazing program and we’ve been talking to them about exploring how that partnership could increase by perhaps doing regional purchasing and exploring regional grant opportunities,” Gilman said.
Such economies of scale could also lead to more professional development opportunities for food service staff, according to Gilman.
District officials believe the ACSD’s new, unified food service program will be cost-neutral initially, with opportunities to save money in future years. The ACSD currently has an annual food service budget of around $850,000. Approximately 750 district students now get school meals on a daily basis, according to Gilman.
She said the new director will also be asked to see how the ACSD could participate in summer meal offerings. Middlebury and several other ACSD communities currently qualify for free summer meals sites for kids 2–18, due to the number of local households eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches through the United States Department of Agriculture.
Often, summer food programs piggyback onto summer camps.
“Right now, the district doesn’t operate any form of food service in the summer,” Gilman said. “We haven’t had the bandwidth to do it. So we’ve relied on our local partners to help with that. We think it’s something the district could investigate further and expand upon, with someone dedicated to doing that.”
Gilman is looking forward to the upcoming nutrition-related changes in the ACSD.
“It’s really exciting,” Gilman said. “I think it’s something the community can get behind. The emphasis is we want to expand on what we’re already doing well. It’s a great opportunity for us to promote what’s important about food service. And it goes way beyond the food.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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