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East exploring food options

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By Mercy Lopez

Las Vegas City Schools officials have been inundated with complaints about the quality of food served to students in recent weeks, and now the district is looking at bringing in a contractor to handle school meals for its high school and middle school.

Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez informed the school board last week that the district will explore the possibility of outsourcing the food service program for both Memorial Middle School and Robertson High School.

The announcement follows an uproar sparked by the posting on Facebook of an unappetizing lunch that was served to students at Memorial Middle School. The photo, taken by MMS student Kendra Duran, showed a piece of rolled ham, smashed sweet potatoes, a package of graham crackers, half an apple and green beans.

The photo was circulated widely, and comments have poured in via Facebook.

Many parents are furious about the quality of food being served, and former board member Peter Trujillo also criticized the district in an email to McNellis-Martinez that he copied to Education Secretary Hanna Skandera.

“Does it look appetizing to you and edible?” Trujillo wrote. “Would you expect  your child to eat it?”

He added, “This type of service and/or food is unacceptable.”

Trujillo called the food unacceptable.

“Our children are not eating at school...,” he wrote. “This does not help or do anything to help our educational learning when we have children going hungry all day or even part of the day.”

McNellis-Martinez said she is aware of the comments being posted on Facebook, and the district is addressing the issue. She said she has met with people who are upset about the food and she has met with food service staff to get to the bottom of the issue. Additionally she and the school board discussed the food service issue at length during a special work session on Sept. 13.

“We have taken this matter seriously,” McNellis-Martinez said during last week’s board meeting. “We have taken several steps regarding this issue.”

She said the district has formed a student nutrition committee; menus have been reviewed by the state’s Public Education Department; the district’s food service director and staff will continue with professional development working with the University of New Mexico and Luna Community College; and the district has applied for funding to renovate the kitchen at Sierra Vista Elementary.

Additionally, she said, the district will meet with Summit Foods to discuss the possibility of outsourcing the food service program at Memorial Middle School and Robertson High School.

“We will discuss what is a viable proposal,” she said. “We will continue our efforts with both UNM and LCC as well as continue professional development.”

“Although we are far from where we want to be (in terms of food service), we are addressing this issue,” she said.

McNellis-Martinez noted that the district hasn’t increased it’s meal prices in several years and doesn’t deny breakfast or lunch to any student. She added that a fresh fruit or vegetable is available as a snack for every elementary student and a snack is also available for any middle and high school student. The district’s food service meets or exceeds all state and federal guidelines, she said.

McNellis-Martinez said that she has spoken with other superintendent’s across the state and they are also facing similar food service issues.

“While this is not where it needs to be or what some parents choose to feel is appropriate for their child, we will continue to make efforts to ensure we are feeding our children what is appropriate,” she said.

She told parents at the meeting that they are welcome to participate in the student nutrition committee and she said they can also provide their children a lunch.