L.A. Unified classroom breakfasts may be axed, Deasy says
An L.A. Unified classroom breakfast program feeding nearly 200,000 children but sharply criticized by the teachers union will be eliminated next year unless school board members vote to reinstate it, Supt. John Deasy said Thursday.
Deasy said he had removed the program from next year’s proposed budget to give the board “maximum responsibility” to respond to criticism about it from United Teachers Los Angeles.
The union last week gave the program a “failing grade” as it unveiled a video and survey findings that more than half of 729 respondents said the classroom meals had increased pests, created messes and eaten up instructional time. More than half said they disliked the program, but 88% said they would support it if moved to the cafeteria.
“The program is going to have to be cut unless the board votes to keep it,” Deasy said. “UTLA made it very clear about how this program is a big problem.”
Juan Ramirez, a UTLA vice president, said the union would not back the program unless it was moved out of the classroom. He said that union members were willing to sit down with district officials to brainstorm alternatives but that the classroom meals were interfering with teaching time.
According to the survey, it took teachers an average of 30 minutes to set up, feed the children and clean up.
“We agree that students should have breakfast, but not in the classroom,” Ramirez said. “It’s really stopped our teachers from doing their jobs.”
An audit of nine schools in 2011-12 by the district’s inspector general released in February found that most educators were teaching during breakfast time.
Deasy said he would recommend the program’s reinstatement. He said feeding children in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria before school had tripled participation in the breakfast program at 280 schools, brought in more than $6 million in federal school meal reimbursements and preserved more than 900 jobs.
The potential loss of those jobs triggered a protest from the Service Employees International Union Local 900, which represents nearly 30,000 cafeteria workers, custodians and other school employees.
Bianca Gallegos of the service workers union said members planned to fan out to schools and the community to rally support for the program.
“It’s vital to our community, both for the jobs and the meals served to our children,” she said.
District administrators have said that schools are reporting better attendance, less tardiness, more focused students and fewer trips to the nurse’s office since the program was launched in 2011 by L.A. Unified, the nonprofit Los Angeles Fund for Public Education and other partners.
The district planned to add 324 schools next year in an expansion that could bring in more than $23 million in federal school meal reimbursements.
The board is expected to vote on the issue May 16.
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