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Canton lunch program still losing money

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CANTON — For the second year in a row, Canton Central School District is losing money on its school lunch program because students are continuing to reject some of the menu items the district created to comply with stricter federal nutritional guidelines.

School districts across the country are still struggling to adapt to regulations imposed last school year that restrict the amount of calories, white flour, sodium and fats allowed in lunch entrees. They’re also required to increase wheat-based foods, fruits and vegetables.

The Canton lunch program ended last school year with an $89,825 shortfall when the number of lunches dropped by roughly 14 percent, according to figures provided by School Business Manager Judy A. Rhinebeck.

The situation hasn’t improved much so far this school year. Between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, the cafeteria recorded a $10,233 shortfall.

Ellamae “Bluejay” Fenlong, the district’s food service manager, said before the new guidelines, the district was serving about 800 lunches a day, which has dropped to roughly 600.

“We never sprang back to where we were, nor do I foresee that happening,” Mrs. Fenlong said. “It’s something we’re fighting every day.”

Ms. Rhinebeck said the district has to follow the federal guidelines in order to receive federal reimbursement money for students who receive free or reduced-priced lunches. This year about 38 percent of Canton students qualify for the subsidized meals. The cafeteria program is supposed to be self-sustaining, meaning revenues cover expenses. When that doesn’t occur, districts have to transfer funds from their general fund. Before the new guidelines were imposed, the Canton lunch program covered its expenses.

“I haven’t heard of any school district that’s not been negatively impacted,” Ms. Rhinebeck said.

On the positive side, she said the federal government has agreed not to proceed with its plans to impose further restrictions on school lunches.

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