Thursday, February 26, 2015

What’s New in the World of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act?

USDA Creates a Process for States to Grant Exemptions to the Whole Grain Requirement


The USDA has released guidance to state nutrition agencies about how to handle granting exemptions to the Whole Grain Requirement, which has had a significant impact on cafeteria operations throughout the state and country.  The USDA was compelled to set up this waiver process as part of the Omnibus bill (Public Law 113-235).

With this guidance, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture can now offer exemptions to New Jersey school districts which can demonstrate that a hardship was created by the new Whole Grain Requirement.  If the waiver is granted, it would allow a school to return to the pre-2014-2015 standards for meals, which required that at least 50% of the grains offered in the program are whole grain rich.  For a school district to be eligible, they have to be able to prove they experienced a hardship.  This can include: financial hardship, difficulty in securing products, poor student acceptability, etc.  The waiver, if granted, would apply to reimbursable meals only. 
We ask the state to move on this quickly and to develop an efficient process, as school cafeterias need to rebuild their participation.


The USDA’s guidance does not allow the states to grant waivers for the whole grain requirement with regard to a la carte sales.  This can include meal entrees that are sold a la carte, as well as bagels, pretzels, cookies, etc.

The directive from Congress to the USDA, it asks them to restore the standards to the pre-2014-2015 level.  This would indicate that schools should be able to restore some of the popular a la carte items that were available in the previous school year.  It is disappointing that the USDA did not follow the directive of Congress.

The economics of a school cafeteria rely heavily on the high profit margin generated by the a la carte sales so that the wholesome meal can be presented to students at a tremendous value.  The USDA should offer expanded guidance, allowing for this exemption.  School districts can continue to vigorously promote a nutritious selection of foods and promote a healthy lifestyle, while being responsive to taste preferences of students.  Each school district can develop a wellness policy that best meets the needs of their community.  The decision-making for the students in our districts should be left to the local community officials.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Get the Waiver

The pasta waiver is the USDA’s acknowledgement that the whole grain pasta product is unacceptable/unpopular to students.  If New Jersey follows through with implementing the ability to grant waivers on the other whole grain requirements, this would have more of an impact on the program than the Pasta Waiver alone.

Contact information for the NJ Dept. of Agriculture Officials, which is provided below:

Rose Tricario, Director, Division of Food and Nutrition Services:

Even Mikey hates it!

Arleen Ramos-Szatmary, Coordinator, School Nutrition Programs:    

Northern Region Specialist: Janice Vecchione:
Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren Counties

New Jersey Department of Agriculture
Division of Food and Nutrition
School Nutrition Programs
22 South Clinton Avenue
Building 4, 3rd Floor
Trenton, NJ 08609-1212

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Struggling With the Unintended Effects of the HHFKA

Schools throughout New Jersey, as well as the rest of the country, are struggling with the unintended effects of the School Nutrition programs that resulted from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
While different phases of this act have been implemented over the last few years, the most onerous aspects of the new regulations took effect this September.  Specifically, the Whole Grain requirement mandated that all grains offered be whole grain rich.  This includes all breads, pizza, bagels and more.  Previously, 50% of what was offered had to be whole grain rich.
The offerings were unfamiliar to students and proved to be unpopular.  Districts experienced a drop in participation.  In a recent article from the National School Boards Association (NSBA), they reported that over 75% of districts saw a drop in participation.  NSBA also reported that over 80% of districts experienced an increase in plate waste and 81% noted an increase in costs.  
The drop in students participating, combined with higher operating costs are creating financial hardships for the district’s food service program.  The School Nutrition Association (SNA), with 55,000 food service professional members, revealed results of a study indicating that only 18% of schools anticipate they will be self-sustaining (break even). 

A CALL TO ACTION: At the end of December, 2014, Congress passed the Omnibus Bill (Public Law No. 113-235), allowing states to grant waivers from the least popular elements of this regulation.  To date, the state of New Jersey has not done so and is awaiting guidance from the USDA.  We, as the professionals representing the interests of our communities, need to encourage the federal and state legislators and agencies to move quickly on this topic.  We want our food service operations to deliver healthful, wholesome meals that are popular with our students and their parents.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Managing Fund Balances under the 2% CAP

5 Budgeting Tips for Singles ::
Today's landscape of budgetary constrained growth requires comprehensive planning, review and regular oversight of all accounts and funds to ensure end of year balances are projected and met for future budgets and tax levy stability.  

The Summit School District, like many surrounding districts in the Tri-County area continues to provide a comprehensive educational program amidst the continuous budgetary constraints from the State of New Jersey with regard to State Aid and the 2% CAP structure.  The FY 2011 was marked by the elimination of State aid for “high wealth[1]” district’s such as Summit.  This resulted in a loss of revenue of ($2,587,433).   This action had a significant impact on development of the 2010-11 school budget requiring budgetary cuts and further reductions in order to meet the CAP now at 2%  on budgetary tax levy.  Although there was a return of State Aid in the fiscal year 2012 totaling $1,121,353 (after deductions of $57,272 for State facilities – Special Ed.), it represents only 43% of the original state aid received by the district in FY 2010.  The total adjusted aid for the 2014-15 budget received 2/25/14 was $1,607,073 or 46.7% of the FY2011 mark.  Regardless the district retained its competitive offering of programs through strategic initiatives designed to maximize operational efficiency and retain quality staff.

While the outcomes reveal a beneficial result, the underlying set of budgetary concepts underscore the need for a multi-disciplined approach in budgeting today that incorporates Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB) with Site Based Budgeting as part of the successful planning tools.
"Budget processes can be plotted on a continuum ranging from a centralized set of processes that rely little upon strategic planning and evaluation as the basis for budget development." - Guthrie, James W. Modern School Business Administration A Planning Approach Boston, New York: Pearson, 2008. 
In order to maintain effective budgets and balances today - we must live at the other end of the spectrum that requires continuous planning and evaluation to continue to meet the needs of the district and deliver a 21st Century Quality Based Education. Pepe, Louis. Budgeting Concepts, Graduate Program in Education. Montclair State University. Montclair, NJ. 12 November 2011. Lecture.
These are the basic concepts that I have taught and applied in a focused effort to maintain program and personnel while keeping an eye on the fiscal charge of the tax levy CAP of 2%.  The basic premise starts with real planning in the development of the budget (ZBB) in concert with the actual needs of the respective buildings (SBB).  Much like a household budget, if you don't need it... don't buy it!  If you need it ... then budget for it or wait until the appropriate time to purchase such as end of year, depending on cash flow availability.

Major purchases of equipment or projects (Fund 12) should be held until later in the school year (April - June) to ensure ample funds to meet unforeseen expenditures that arise within the budgetary year.  It's a little difficult to attempt to return a large purchase like a vehicle or furniture and impossible to undo spending on a small project when you need funds for a Special Ed. move in.

Validating encumbrances throughout the year needs to become a basic tenant of the budget cycle.  Another equally important measure is the concept of 'purchase over lease'.  While in many cases leasing provides an opportunity to make large purchases over time, it can become a deadly budgetary trap if continually added year over year with payments building until you have now created a huge annual payment that forces the district to pony up each year, not to mention interest.  This 'opportunity cost' takes money from other possible expenditures that are either required or sought.

This starts with a clear understanding and control over your personnel sections of the budget as they account for roughly 80% of the total budget.  Validating your encumbrances ensure you know where you are in terms of plus or minus at any given time in the budgetary year.  Waiting too long to find this position can be problematic.  When referring to our cash position and budgetary strategies, I always say, "We are here by design... not accident!"  If your not planning, reviewing and working with your administrators in developing and monitoring your budgets, it will lead to a crash.  

[1] The DOE use of DFG data to analyze the relationship between student achievement and the socioeconomic status of the communities in which they reside.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Healthy Hunger Free Act - Taking a Bite out of School Lunch Programs

HHFKA 2010
Implementation of the new phase of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has had a tremendous impact on food service operations throughout New Jersey and the rest of the country.  While the measures are geared at improving childhood nutrition the guidelines pose serious impediments to the overall health of the program forcing many districts to contemplate leaving the Federal School Lunch program due to the sharp decline in participation.

Elementary school children eating in a cafeteriaAt a recent presentation given at the Union County Association of School Business Officials (UCASBO)  meeting, a Food Service Management Company spokesperson state the prohibited items covered under the act that could no longer be vended contributed, on average, 200% of the surplus generated by any cafeteria.  Those item included such staples as Snapple, fresh baked cookies, pretzels and bagels.

Why are districts like our reluctant to leave the National School Lunch Program.  Like Summit many districts receive substantial funding from Federal and State reimbursement for their participation in the program.  For Summit that amount is approximately $300,000 per year.  That is over 20% of the cafeteria’s revenue.  $246,000 of that amount was to subsidize the meals for free and reduced-price students.

Like many districts across the country, we are working on assessing the impact on September sales, as well as watching trends to see if student acceptance increases.  So far, the results have had a devastating impact on the sale of certain food items, such as pizza and deli sandwiches, as well as a significant impact on a la carte sales.  Most importantly, a al carte sales enable many districts to offset increased costs of wholesome meals thus allow the district to maintain lower prices for those meals.    Furthermore, the decision to stay or go from the National School Lunch Program in New Jersey is dictated by NJ Administrative Code 2:36-1.6.  This code requires a district with more than 5% needy to adhere to the USDA guidelines for designing a meal. 

Of recent, the National School Boards Association released a statement of support of reconsideration of the rules by the USDA.

National School Boards Association Issues Press Release Calling for Flexibility with Regard to School Meals
The National School Boards Association has issued a press release calling for flexibility and relief from the U.S. Congress and USDA to address the unintended consequences of onerous requirements for federal school meal programs in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Taking Care of Business

ASBO's Annual Meetings & Workshops provide an excellent opportunity for all School Business Officials to take care of the "Business side of Education" in a professional setting that provides some of the most up to date professional development and networking on the planet.  ASBO International’s Annual Meeting & Expo brings together more than 1,000 school business officials for four days of learning and networking. The experience allows leaders in the field of school business to grow and share their own experiences in a professional setting that promotes leadership and networking in a face-to-face exchange with peers from across the country and internationally.  

While the 2014 conference has concluded, the annual opportunity will once again roll around for 2015 in Grapevine Texas and will be sure meet or exceed your expectations with respect to Professional Development.  Please plan on joining me along with many colleagues for an exciting time as I will be representing New Jersey ASBO as President at that conference.  See you there!  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

AASA News Report - New Study finds School superintendents deserve little credit for student achievement

First up, a thought - In most cases I always say its not about the person, it's about the position; however in reviewing this article I feel it is more important than ever to consider the Person when evaluating the impact and fairness of the this study on the position.  

In the ever changing environment of CAPS in New Jersey and across the states in various roles and aspects of budgeting, the CAP on Superintendent will only add to validate this study as less experienced and under paid professional executives are put in charge of overseeing the district's primary mission - preparing students to be successful in the 21st century. 

Like any major business a dynamic CEO sets the tone and direction in achievement of the goals and objectives of the organization similar to a dynamic Superintendent.  While only one person that person has the ability to organize, staff and manage the change for improvement by building strong teams and supporting instruction.  Question remains, do you have a dynamic leader and if not will you be able to attract one within CAP structure?  

Jessica Williams, | The Times-Picayune By Jessica Williams, September 11, 2014 at 1:14 PM

"In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable."

School superintendents may rightfully claim only minimal credit for academic success seen in their systems, according to a new study by the education research arm of the non-profit Brookings Institution. Rather, many people with the school system work collaboratively to promote student growth or declines.
The findings go against what some people might assume about school system leaders, particularly those in large urban areas. Superintendents are most often praised -- or blamed --- for performance metrics, and are typically compensated for their perceived ability to bring about academic gains. But here's what research shows:
  • The superintendency is largely a short-term job, with the typical superintendent serving only three or four years
  • Student achievement does not improve with the longevity of superintendent service
  • Hiring a new superintendent is not associated with higher student achievement
  • Superintendents account for a small percentage (0.3 percent) of student differences in achievement. The effect is statistically significant. But it's much smaller than that of other education system components, such as student characteristics, teachers, schools and school systems
  • Individual superintendents who have exceptional effect on student achievement cannot be reliably identified.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Crisis Management for Incidents

Often when we think of Crisis Management we envision large scale disasters like School Shootings, Tornados, Hurricanes or other catastrophic events putting lives and property at risk.  While these are all potential, in the insurance world they are considered less likely or carry a lower degree of probability.  With that said we have seen a major uptick in all three along with a higher degree of probability related to significant weather events that have produced a new normal as indicated in a recent study conducted by Munich Re, leading experts on risk solution worldwide based in Germany:   
October 22, 2012 - A new study by Munich Re shows that North America has been most affected by weather-related extreme events in recent decades. The publication "Severe weather in North America" analyzes all kinds of weather perils and their trends. It reports and shows that the continent has experienced the largest increases in weather-related loss events.

For the period concerned – 1980 to 2011 – the overall loss burden from weather catastrophes was US$ 1,060bn (in 2011 values).The insured losses amounted to US$ 510bn, and some 30,000 people lost their lives due to weather catastrophes in North America during this time frame.