Option for hot meals off the table at some Anchorage schools

Eight schools unable to serve cooked meals due to a lack of cafeteria managers
Eight schools unable to serve cooked meals due to a lack of cafeteria managers
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 7:14 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Employees at the Anchorage School District’s Student Nutrition building were busy Tuesday morning assembling frozen food into ready-to-cook packages.

Not every school, however, will be receiving a delivery of these meals — including Bayshore Elementary.

“Our situation is such that we don’t have a cafeteria manager,” Bayshore Principal Anna Walker said.

According to Walker, Bayshore has been without hot food since the school year began. The door to the cafeteria remains closed while students consume their lunches in their classrooms.

“Trying to keep our students fed and learning, that’s the most important thing for us,” Walker said.

According to the district’s senior director of student nutrition Marci McGill, a shortage of cafeteria managers has essentially closed lunch rooms in a number of schools.

“It’s a big concern,” McGill said. “We’ve got eight schools who are not able to serve lunch — and so that’s a big revenue loss — but also our students are not getting a hot meal.”

This year the school district has been averaging 22,000 meals daily — including breakfast and lunch — which is down 8,000 meals over previous years, where the average had been 30,000 a day. Losing the ability to serve hot meals also comes at a cost, with the district estimating $2 million in lost reimbursement revenue.

The eight schools lacking an open cafeteria are substituting shelf-stable foods such as Lunchables, fruit cups, and milk in lieu of hot meals. McGill said those are considered gratuitous meals that the district pays for at no cost to students.

While students are still receiving cold food, Walker is concerned for the low-income students who depend on the hot meal.

“In the beginning of the year we felt quite a bit of the impact, especially for our low-income students,” Walker said. “Sometimes the Lunchable is not enough necessarily where a hot lunch was a better meal and it was hot.”

The district is offering a hiring incentive to potential candidates with a $2,500 sign-on bonus.