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Nome Schools to Offer Breakfast with Switch to Food Contractor

Nome Public Schools will offer a full breakfast for students by the start of the Fall 2014 school year, a move made possible by contracting all meal preparation in the district to an outside company.

The company preparing meals for the district will be NMS Food and Facilities. Based in Anchorage, the company is a joint venture between Kotzebue’s NANA Corporation and the multi-billion dollar Sodexo corporation.

Bruce Tanner, Director of Operations for NMS, was at the meeting to review just how the company would take over meals at the district. Tanner said the company can offer Nome Public Schools both its lunches and an additional full breakfast meal for the same cost the district now pays just to make its own lunches and provide the occasional breakfast snack.

“The staff that’s there today would stay intact,” Tanner said, noting that kitchen staff at the schools would eventually become official employees of NMS.

Going through the company would provide “the opportunity to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables through our purchasing power through Cisco,” Tanner added. “You’re not going to have to worry about the cost of food and some of those things.”

Controlling costs is a key driver behind the decision to work with NMS. The district spent $415,000 on its food service program in 2013, with a cost overrun of about $109,000. The disparity between the district’s costs for the food service program and revenue from it has “steadily grown over the years,” business manager Paula Coffman said.

The board raised the question of just how much the meals ultimately cost: with roughly 75 percent of the district eligible for free lunch and six percent for reduced lunch, that would leave just 19 percent of students paying for breakfast, with no guarantees on how many of those students actually would take advantage of the meal.

The uncertainty of whether or not enough meals could be sold to cover costs—uncertainty in the face of a district budget that’s already been pared down—led board member Barb Nichols to say she could not support introducing a new meal for students when the district has already had to cut back.

“I have a hard time implementing a brand new program, a brand new expenditure for the district, when we’ve cut our kindergarten aides, and we’re already pulling hundreds of thousands out of our reserves,” Nichols stated.

She added that the contract before the board had dozens, if not hundreds, of empty lines waiting for final figures and contract language to be plugged in. “I think this needs more research before we start a new program,” she added.

Nichols was the only dissenting voice on the board, which voted to move forward with the agreement for a food service through NMS.  Breakfast will be on the school menu by the fall.

The board closed the meeting with a look at the latest budget, a budget more than $260,000 dollars smaller than what the board had hoped for from the city. Superintendent Steve Gast said it’ll take a rebalancing of the budget to make the new numbers work, but a rebalancing he said would be done within the school that won’t result in further cuts, even if it means dipping into the school’s savings to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Once the final numbers all shake out, and we have staffing in place where we need to be, while we still have to go into fund balance, I think we’re going to be able to support all the current programs we had this current school year and not have to dive that deep into our savings,” Gast said after the meeting.

A finalized budget for Nome Public Schools for the 2014-2015 school year will be delivered at the school board’s July meeting.

Editor’s note: a version of this story appeared online that stated the district had gone over it’s “food budget” by about $109,000. The above corrected text reflects that number as the difference between the program’s costs for the entire “food service program” and the revenue the district takes in from it.