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Quick Start for:
A. Organization and Management
B. Student Meal Participation
C. Cost Reporting and Control

CURRENT SITUATION

Increasing student meal participation is important to a school district not only because a district increases its federal reimbursements for every student who participates in meals, but also because it can ensure that more students receive the nutrition they need to perform well during the school day.

Many EPISD students qualify for the free and reduced-price meals; in the 1997-98 school year, about 70 percent of the student body was eligible.

As in many other districts, a much larger percentage of EPISD's students participate in the lunch program than in the breakfast program, regardless of whether they are in the free and reduced-price program or pay full price for their meals. Food Service served an average of 10,957 reimbursable breakfasts and 36,254 lunches a day in the 1997-98 school year. In addition to lunches, the department operates snack bars and an "a la carte" lunch program offering items such as pizza, hamburgers, and sandwiches at district secondary schools.

While the overall lunch participation rate-the average number of daily student lunches served expressed as a percentage of average daily attendance-was 59 percent for the 1997-98 school year, the overall breakfast participation rate averaged 18 percent (Exhibit 11-5).

Exhibit 11-5
Average Daily Participation in Breakfast and Lunch
in Episd Schools in the 1997-98 School Year

Month

ADA

Average Daily Lunch Participation

Daily Participation Rate

Average Daily Breakfast Participation

Daily Participation Rate

August

61,476

36,060

58.7%

10,004

16.3%

September

61,476

38,222

62.2

11,623

18.9

October

61,336

37,858

61.7

11,689

19.1

November

61,336

37,772

61.6

11,831

19.3

December

61,336

35,151

57.3

10,650

17.4

January

61,336

35,304

57.6

10,345

16.9

February

61,336

37,200

60.6

11,468

18.7

March

61,336

34,864

56.8

10,790

17.6

April

61,336

35,945

58.6

10,840

17.7

May

61,188

34,164

55.8

10,330

16.9

Averages

61,349

36,254

59.1%

10,957

17.9%

Source: EPISD.

Lunch participation is lower at high schools (from 15 percent to 39 percent); breakfast participation is low throughout the district. The reaction of students, parents, and teachers to the quality and quantity of the food is mixed, and ranges from poor (with comments such as "The food is almost inedible!") to good ("Enchiladas are great!" and "I applaud the selection, preparation, and serving of our cafeteria food. Bravo to food and to personnel").

The district uses a variety of prepackaged/preprocessed food products as well as foods made from scratch. For example, items such as chili and enchiladas are prepared from scratch, but the district also uses prepackaged pizza and some prepackaged breakfast items.

Exhibit 11-6 compares meal participation at EPISD with seven peer districts. The chart displays the average daily attendance (ADA) in each district and the average daily participation (ADP) of students in breakfast and lunch.

Exhibit 11-6
ADA and ADP of Breakfast and Lunch Meals
EPISD and Peer Districts
1997-98
  District
Average Daily Attendance
ADP (Breakfast) ADP as % of ADA ADP (Lunch) ADP as % Of ADA
Houston 205,657 38,362 18.7% 105,200 51.15
Dallas 152,357 29,640 19.5% 96,958 63.6
Fort Worth 75,492 11,478 15.2% 34,997 46.4
El Paso 61,349 10,957 17.9% 36,254 59.1
San Antonio 56,525 18,987 33.6% 42,755 75.6%
Ysleta 44,007 7,768 17.7% 23,341 53.0
Corpus Christi 39,073 5,440 13.9% 21,846 55.9
Socorro 21,680 2,774 12.8% 9,454 43.6
Average 82,017 15,676 19.1% 46,351 56.5%
Source: Texas Education Agency.

Exhibit 11-7 shows current EPISD breakfast and lunch prices. The adult prices are a la carte because the price varies depending on what meal items they choose. Of course, adults can choose to eat a regular breakfast or lunch just as the students eat, and in that case, the price is the same as the price for paying students.

Exhibit 11-7
EPISD Meal Prices
1997-98
Meal Type Price
Student paid breakfast $.60
Student reduced-price breakfast $.30
Adult paid breakfast A la carte
Student paid lunch (grades k-6) $1.25
Student paid lunch (grades 7-12) $1.35
Student reduced-price lunch $.40
Adult paid lunch A la carte
Source: EPISD.

FINDING

Food Service uses several methods to ensure the anonymity of students who participate in the free and reduced-price meal programs. Students and faculty are issued bar-code cards that they swipe through a card reader on top of the SNAP point-of-sale terminal. In elementary schools, the teachers usually collect the cards from the students and hand them to the lunch clerks for swiping; this is done to decrease the likelihood of students losing their cards. High school students also are issued bar code cards, as are most students in middle and intermediate schools. In some middle and intermediate schools, the SNAP unit includes a keypad on which students enter their numbers. The director of Food Service explained that students just entering middle school tend to lose their cards more often than other students; they are accustomed to the elementary school practice of giving their cards to their teachers for safekeeping and are not yet used to keeping the card themselves. The keypad is an easy alternative.

Students who pay for their meals are encouraged to prepay to a Food Service account so that they do not have to pay for their food at each meal. Parents can prepay with checks or cash; credit cards are not accepted. Prepaying avoids the "singling out" of students who participate in the free and reduced-price meal program, allows cafeteria lines to move more efficiently, and allows parents the convenience of paying once a month instead of on a day-by-day basis.

COMMENDATION

Food Service uses several effective methods to ensure the anonymity of students who participate in free and reduced-price meal programs and allows cafeteria lines to move more efficiently.

FINDING

The Food Service Unit recently has used a series of methods to increase breakfast participation at the elementary school level, on the assumption that, if students get in the habit of eating breakfast at an early age, they will continue throughout their school years. This year, Food Service introduced an "Awesome Breakfast Challenge Club" at ten elementary schools as a pilot test. The club is intended to interest students in breakfast by offering incentives such as inexpensive toy prizes, guest appearances by characters such as TEA's "Earl E. Bird," videos, and special breakfast items.

Food Service also provides TAAS breakfast bags to elementary classrooms on the morning that students take the TAAS test, so that children can feel more mentally alert and prepared for the test. The department also schedules cafeteria tours for elementary classes that emphasize the importance of nutrition in effective learning. Other special promotions, such as the "Five a Day" program (promoting the importance of eating five servings of vegetables every day) and Nutrition Month in March, also are used to increase interest in nutrition and stress the importance of a good, healthy breakfast and lunch to academic success. Over the last four years, these programs are credited with increasing breakfast participation rates by 50 percent at the elementary level.

COMMENDATION

Food Service uses a variety of educational and promotional methods to increase breakfast participation in EPISD elementary schools.

FINDING

Despite Food Service's efforts to increase breakfast participation in its elementaries, the participation percentage remains low. Food Service has not operated any of these pilot projects long enough to determine their cost-effectiveness. In addition, Food Service has only piloted these programs rather than establishing them at all elementary schools, and has no programs to raise breakfast participation at middle schools or high schools. Breakfast participation rates at the elementary schools are higher than before the programs were implemented; participation has been 50 percent higher in the four years since the initiatives began. The success of the program has prompted the district to begin expanding it into other schools.

One such program known as "grab and go" has been used successfully in other districts. Ysleta ISD has instituted a "grab-and-go" breakfast concept to increase participation. Students in 37 elementary schools eat in cafeterias, while students in four high schools eat on the bus on the way to school, in the cafeteria, at the snack bar, or in the classroom. The "grab-and-go" test in two elementary schools has increased participation by 50 to 90 percent.

Other school districts have had similar success with the "grab-and-go" concept. For example, the Brownsville ISD established a breakfast-to-go program in 1994 that resulted in a 617 percent increase in participation at the high school where they pilot-tested the program.

Recommendation 129:

Introduce the "grab-and-go" breakfast concept to all EPISD secondary schools and continue testing programs already under way in elementary schools.

Breakfast meals should be prepackaged for ease of serving and handling and should be served on mobile carts or other easy-access/high-traffic locations where students tend to congregate each morning before class.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE
1. Food Service supervisors develop a cost-effective "grab-and-go" breakfast meal programs. May -June 1999
2. The Food Service director, supervisors, and cafeteria managers at secondary schools implement the "grab-and-go" program. August 1999
3. The Food Service director and supervisors gather feedback from principals, teachers, students, and cafeteria managers to refine the program and record progress October 1999  
4. The Food Service director and supervisors make refinements to the program as needed based on feedback and expand the program to secondary schools. January 2000

FISCAL IMPACT

EPISD's federal breakfast revenues for the 1997-98 school year were $1,907,817. A conservatively estimated increase of 5 percent in breakfast participation would generate additional revenue of $95,391 annually. Food costs are 35 percent of total costs, so a cost of $33,387 must be taken into account; labor costs are not estimated to increase, since the same labor can be used to prepare and serve breakfast. This would give EPISD a net profit of $62,004 annually beginning in 2000-2001 once the recommendations are fully implemented across the district. It is assumed that only half of the savings, on $31,002, could be achieved in the first year to give the district ample time to implement breakfast programs.

Recommendation 1999-2000 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004
Introduce the "grab-and-go" breakfast.
$31,002

$62,004

$62,004

$62,004

$62,004

FINDING

EPISD high schools have one 40-minute lunch period. Because these cafeterias serve between 300 and 650 students each at lunch, they are crowded and students often must stand in long lines to get served. In some schools, students can spend up to 30 minutes of their lunch period in line, leaving them with only ten minutes to actually eat lunch. The open lunch period gives students the option of leaving campus and eating a faster but less nutritious lunch. Food Service staff members attribute relatively low lunch participation rates at high schools to the single lunch period; again, lunch participation at the district's high schools ranges from 15 to 39 percent.

 

Recommendation 130:

Establish a second lunch period at all EPISD high school campuses.

At least one more lunch period should be added at all EPISD high schools. For schools serving 650 students or more, a third lunch period is advisable. Additional lunch periods should help reduce crowding in high school cafeterias as well as the amount of time students must wait in line. As a result, the number of students who eat lunch at high school cafeterias should increase.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE
1. The Food Service director works with the supervisors and high school principals to establish a second or third lunch period. June 1999
2. The Food Service director, supervisors, and managers prepare campus lunch schedules and work programs for Food Service personnel. July 1999
3. The second lunch period is implemented at all EPISD high schools.

August 1999

FISCAL IMPACT

This recommendation could be implemented with existing resources.

FINDING

Applications for free or reduced-price meals are distributed in English and Spanish to all students at registration. Students are encouraged to complete the applications and submit them to the principal's office, cafeteria personnel, or their teachers as soon as possible. In addition to the applications, the district also uses direct certification to qualify students for free and reduced-price meals. The district obtains lists from the Texas Department of Human Services of students who live in households that receive food stamps to automatically qualify those students for the program. Exhibit 11-8 shows the number of students approved for free and reduced-price meals for the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years.

Exhibit 11-8
Students Approved for Free And Reduced-Price Meals
Through Application or Direct Certification
1997-98 and 1998-99 School Years
Category 1997-98 1998-99 Change
Free 39,616 37,577 -2,039
Reduced 5,238 5,516 +278
Total 44,854 43,093 -1,761
Source: EPISD.

During the on-site visit to EPISD, officials at Burges High School said that the school has students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals but have not been approved to receive them. Though the SNAC program distributes applications to every student at registration and there are numerous people to whom a student can submit a completed application, some eligible students do not submit applications because their parents do not wish to complete them. The SNAC Supervisor indicated that one factor making parents reluctant to complete the application is that the form itself is confusing and difficult to fill out. The district loses money from this failure in reimbursements from the federal government for meals served.

Recommendation 131:

Pre-certify families for free and reduced-price meals.

If one child in a family is qualified for free or reduced-price meals, Food Service should search the district's student database to see if other children in the family are students in EPISD, and automatically qualify them as well. The district should consider relying on the pre-certification data already available by DHS and qualify families rather than individual students, to ensure that no one falls through the cracks to receive free and reduced-price meals. If a student is already certified with DHS, an application should not be made mandatory.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE
1. The SNAC supervisor and clerks receive applications for free and reduced-price meals. August 1999
2. The SNAC supervisor and clerks check the student database to locate any siblings of applicants who have not applied. August 1999
3. The SNAC supervisor automatically qualifies other students in the same family. August 1999

FISCAL IMPACT

By increasing the number of eligible participants in its free and reduced-price meal programs by 1 percent, EPISD could increase its state compensatory education funding by $218,136 annually
($488 x 447 additional students). The savings were derived by dividing EPISD's total state compensatory education 1998-99 allotment of $21,824,246 by 44,733, the district's best six-month average of their 1997-98 enrollment in the free and reduced-price meal program.

Recommendation 1999-2000 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004
Pre-certify families for free and reduced-price meals.
$218,136

$218,136

$218,136

218,136

218,136

FINDING

The Food Service Department has made a variety of efforts to brighten up its cafeterias and make eating in them fun for students. TSPR visited ten of the district's cafeterias, and found them to be clean and well-maintained. Posters, displays about good nutrition, and other colorful items decorate the walls in most of these cafeterias. Some EPISD high school cafeterias have begun to adopt broader food choices; pizza and pasta lines have proven popular.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to depart from the institutional look and feel of cafeterias, even given EPISD's significant efforts in this direction. High school students are allowed to eat lunch off-campus, and their cafeterias find it difficult to compete with nearby fast-food establishments. The institutional setting and the fact that the high schools offer only one lunch period both drive many students away from campus at lunch (Exhibits 11-9 and 11-10).

Exhibit 11-9
Lunch Participation Rates at EPISD High Schools 1997-98
  High School Average Daily Participation (ADP) Average Daily Attendance (ADA)   % ADP of ADA
Andress 321 2,025 15.9
Austin 465 1,849 25.1
Bowie 619 1,582 39.1
Burges 492 1,498 32.8
Coronado 282 1,936 14.6
El Paso 387 1,225 31.6
Irvin 654 2,041 32.0
Jefferson 430 1,763 24.4
Total High School 3,650 13,919 26.2
Source: EPISD.

Participation rates at Bowie, Burges, El Paso, and Irvin are higher than other schools while Coronado and Andress are significantly lower. The district gave no explanation for the variances.

Exhibit 11-10
Breakfast participation rates at episd high schools 1997-98
High School Average Daily Participation (ADP) Average Daily Attendance (ADA)   % ADP of ADA
Andress 57 2,025 2.8
Austin 148 1,849 8.0
Bowie 250 1,582 15.8
Burges 118 1,498 7.9
Coronado 89 1,936 4.6
El Paso 112 1,225 9.1
Irvin 177 2,041 8.7
Jefferson 134 1,763 7.6
Total High School 1,085 13,919 7.8
Source: EPISD.

Some schools in other parts of the state have chosen to adopt a "food court" appearance similar to that used in malls. Corpus Christi and Spring high school cafeterias, for instance, have implemented the food-court concept. Students can select from alternatives such as a fajita bar, hamburger stand, soup and salad bar, or full-course meal. When TSPR reviewed this district, students said that they preferred to stay on campus for lunch because the food was good and the prices were better.

Recommendation 132:

Develop methods to monitor, analyze, and increase lunch participation rates at district high schools.

In tandem with TSPR's other recommendations to relieve overcrowding and improve the atmosphere of the cafeterias, the district also should make a concerted effort to draw high school students into participating in lunch through giveaway promotions, special theme days, healthy food choices, and ethnic foods.

Initially, EPISD must look at the schools experiencing higher rates to determine what is going right and then look to schools with lower rates to determine what is going wrong.

In developing and implementing this strategy, Food Service staff should enlist the help of manufacturers of food products, supplies, and equipment to obtain promotional ideas, decorations (in food-court decor) and other marketing strategies designed to increase high school lunch participation. In addition, the department should survey its high school customers periodically to gauge participation and attract comments about meal service, a task that it has done in the past only on a limited basis.

Food carts, colorful awnings, neon signs, and flags would strengthen the "Eat Smart Café" concept and graphics already in use in district cafeterias, brightening their image with a food-court appearance. The design elements can be rotated or changed often to maintain variety appeal. Menus can be designed in line with the themes of the food courts. Food Service can assemble a committee of students at each school to obtain their input about the types of foods they would like to see incorporated into the food courts. The committees might consider carts or kiosks featuring soups, salads, tacos, or burritos; potato bars are another popular food-court option.

High school cafeterias should strive to achieve a food court appearance that has proven popular among students. The district should pilot the concept at one or two high schools and monitor the results.

Performance measures should be set that contain targets for increased participation.

IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINE
1. The Food Services director, field supervisors, and high school cafeteria managers meet with the assistant superintendent of Operations to discuss strategies and methods for increasing high school lunch participation. April 1999 and ongoing
2. The Food Service director, supervisors, and high school cafeteria managers observe operations at all schools and develop a customer survey to be distributed to students and faculty. April 1999
3. The Food Service director and supervisors contact food product manufacturers to request help in providing promotional giveaways and advertising of name brand foods. May 1999 and Ongoing
4. The Food Service director and supervisors meet with high school principals to discuss ways to improve lunch service. May 1999
5. The Food Service director, supervisors, and student committees develop menus for a food court concept. August 1999
6. The Food Service director, supervisors, and cafeteria managers purchase and install materials needed to give high schools a food court appearance. August 1999
7. The Food Service director and assistant superintendent of Operations establish performance targets for higher participation rates at high school cafeterias. August 1999
8. Two high schools are piloted for food court concept. August 1999
9. The Food Service director and supervisors regularly monitor the high school cafeterias to determine their progress in meeting the established participation targets. Ongoing
10. Food courts are established for remaining high schools on a staggered basis. Ongoing

FISCAL IMPACT

Assuming that increased lunch participation at high schools results in an overall annual increase of 1 percent in lunch participation for the district, 1997-98 federal lunch reimbursement revenues of $10,383,106 would increase by $103,831. Food costs are 35 percent of total costs, so a cost of $36,341 must be taken into account. This would give EPISD a net profit of $67,490 annually.

The food-court pilots would not require expensive renovations and the costs for equipment and materials could be used with food service fund balance. The marketing materials needed to decorate high school cafeterias to look like food courts should cost EPISD no more than $20,000 per school. Assuming the program proves effective, additional high schools could be piloted subsequent years.

Recommendation 1999-2000 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004
Develop methods to monitor, analyze, and increase lunch participation rates at district high schools. $67,490 $67,490 $67,490 $67,490 $67,490