“We thought we had (concerns about the school lunch program) solved, we thought we were going forward, and then the rug got pulled out from under us”, said outgoing Parent Advisory Council (PAC) President Heather Anfossie.
However, at a Monday meeting at People for a Healthy Community (PHC) to discuss what to do about a school district decision to cancel Gabriola Elementary Schools’ (GES) 16 year old school lunch program, Anfossie said PAC will spearhead further discussion with GES and School District 68 personnel to canvass their thoughts about whether they support the operation of such a program in the future.
As previously reported, when an anonymous donor said that due to the falling economy they could no longer donate the $10,000 per year they had been giving to the program, outgoing GES Principal Tricia McKay told PAC the program should be cancelled. Besides concerns about being able to pay for the program, McKay said that many of those who donate to the program don’t realise the program is meant to provide lunches to any GES student who signs onto the program, not just to those with poverty issues.
In response, PAC members agreed to ensure the program was understood by donors. They also agreed to create a fundraising committee for the program so that lunch coordinator Carmen Mattes does not have to organise all the fundraising herself.
Despite PAC’s decision, the school district cancelled the program.
On Monday, Veronica Hartman, one of the founders of the lunch program, said it was started by parent volunteers as a trial program. She said in 1996 - 97 the Ministry of Children and Families gave them a grant of $33,000 per year for a “universal food program”. She said because of the number of lower-income families on the island, Gabriola was considered an “inner city school”. The government pulled the funding, Hartman said, but Gabriolans kept the program going through donations.
School board ‘confused’
After Anfossie explained how the vast majority of the program is funded by the community (see story page 3), meeting attendee Gail Lund said “there is a lot of confusion at the school board” about how the program is funded. She said a letter from Superintendent Dave Hutchinson says “you can have a program that does not require district revenue”, implying that the current plan does. She said she talked to School board Chair Jamie Brennan who said the school can’t afford to pay for the program anymore. She said the district doesn’t know how the program actually operates.
Molloy said currently the community pays Mattes’ salary to run the lunch program. “Because she’s a union employee”, Molloy said, “they cannot fire her from the job”. She said SD 68 is now going to have to come up with Mattes’ salary.
Reinstate or start over?
Lund said Hutchinson suggested that they “consider developing a proposal for a non-profit community-based initiative that operates at arm’s length from the district and does not require district revenue”. She wondered if CUPE would allow non-members to serve lunch, and would the school allow access to a non-profit.
Meeting attendee Carly McMahon said that after a number of emailed discussions with district personnel, she concluded the district has “absolutely no interest or willingness to get the program back up and going. So I think what we need to think of right now is do we want to fight for this or do we want to look at something else?”. She said it’s going to be a challenge to get it going again.
However Lund thought it would be easier to get the program reinstated. She said she’s heard that Brennan is interested in poverty issues. She suggested that PAC arrange a meeting with Brennan. In a Wednesday email to The Shingle, Brennan said he would be willing to meet with community members about the program.
Hartman said there should also be a delegation – preferably a large one – at the September school board meeting.
Anfossie suggested they go to the new principal and staff, see what their vision is, and then take it to a PAC meeting and eventually the school board. Teacher Kate Reynolds said “it could morph into something else that is just as good” as the current lunch program. Anfossie said PAC would organise these meetings, although she also noted they thought they had already reached a solution at the end of the school year.
McMahon also volunteered to look into how the Nanaimo Food Share program works.
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