Friday, August 12, 2011

School meals fell short, report says; Chula Vista Elementary School District faces $56,000 penalty

School meals fell short, report says
Chula Vista Elementary School District faces $56,000 penalty
by Ashly McGlone
Aug. 11, 2011

Meals served by the Chula Vista Elementary School District over 10 days in June and July lacked critical nutrients, such as vitamin A and calories, mandated by state and federal law, a state audit concluded.

As a result, the district is facing a $56,000 penalty, according to district estimates.

Auditors with the California Department of Education visited the district unannounced July 28 after receiving an anonymous complaint about the oversight. A summary of the visit was provided to the district last week.

Among the findings:

• Breakfast meals contained 31 percent fewer calories than they should have.

• Breakfast meals contained 30 percent less vitamin A than they should have.

• Lunches contained 17 percent less iron than they should have.

According to state and federal law, school districts are expected to meet 14 U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrient targets, including 100 percent of the calorie, vitamin A and iron targets. Districts must also meet the USDA nutrient standards to qualify for reimbursement of free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program.

In the Chula Vista Elementary School District, some 1.4 million free meals and 406,000 reduced-price meals are served annually, for $5.2 million in combined state and federal funding.

Since the district was directed to correct similar nutrient deficiencies in 2009 and “did not implement its corrective action,” the district will not be reimbursed for the breakfasts served during the 10 days of school, the report states, amounting to about $56,000 in lost funding.

Last spring, the district overhauled its menu to provide more healthy options, district spokesman Anthony Millican said.

Following a survey indicating 50 percent of sixth-graders in the district are overweight and 25 percent are obese, the district revamped its menu and decreased calories with the help of a chef from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

The district must now add calories back into the menu, Millican said.

Auditors also found that no nutrient analysis was completed for food served through the district’s Seamless Summer Feeding Option, which provides meals to children in poor communities during the summer months without requiring paperwork. Auditors also noted that portions of fruits and grains served as a snack were insufficient. It is still unclear if the $16,000 in funding for that program will be affected, state officials said.

“We appreciate the thorough, professional review of our school menus, labels, and monthly nutrient analysis report. You will see findings that indicate instances where our monthly summaries did not match with what we served on a given day,” Millican said. “Human error will be corrected.”

The surprise visit came three years before the next scheduled state audit of the district’s child nutrition department. No routine internal audits are conducted, district officials said.

The district’s child nutrition services department underwent a restructuring last month, with supervisors no longer reporting to child nutrition program manager Dan Slavin. Millican said those changes are unrelated to concerns raised in the report.

Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Lillian Garcia, who routinely conducts the nutritional analysis and did not conduct July’s analysis, maintained the district meals served were healthy.

“We are offering good meals out there,” she said.

The district, which serves some 27,400 students in Chula Vista, was also directed to transition to a more user-friendly menu planning program by Sept. 1.