D161 board amends budget and discusses new Parker lunch program

At a hearing on April 22, the Flossmoor School District 161 Board of Education approved amendments to the 2023-24 budget that include substantial financial updates.

While there were no objections to the budget amendment from the audience, at the beginning of the meeting several parents expressed concerns and voiced dissatisfaction about their children’s educational experiences.

The board’s decision includes accounting for revenues from a bond sale not previously covered in the initial budget submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education. The amended budget now reflects an increase in revenues by $12,986,520 from bonds sold by the district. It also outlines capital project expenses of $161,410 and life safety expenses of $461,733, covering costs for new rooftop HVAC units installed over the winter break and upcoming construction scheduled for summer 2024.

The district also discussed changing food service providers at Parker Junior High. District 161 received competitive bids from four food management companies, including the current provider, Taher, and newcomers, Arbor Management, Just a Dash, and Open Kitchens. A review led by district officials resulted in Arbor Management emerging as the preferred vendor.

The evaluation process included visiting neighboring Arbor Park District 145 to witness Arbor’s operations firsthand. “We were very impressed by the meal quality and the positive student feedback,” said Associate Superintendent Frances LaBella.

Arbor Management’s proposal includes a variety of daily food options, such as chicken sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, and salads. The changes will require some kitchen equipment and layout adjustments within the school. These updates will be paid for with funds that Parker’s lunch program already has earned. Any proceeds from school lunches must be reinvested in the school by law.

The transition to Arbor Management not only aims to diversify meal choices but also brings a financial benefit, reducing the cost of breakfast from $2.20 to $2.05 and lunch from $3.55 to $3.50. These changes are expected to save the district approximately $3,385 on breakfasts and $3,009 on lunches annually.

Illinois public schools are required by law to provide lunches for students in need. The cost of school lunches has been a concern for the district in the past. 

To add color to the new food service environment, an art teacher at Parker will lead a summer academy for gifted students to create murals in the kitchen area.

After providing the sole bid for the contract, Open Kitchens will remain the food service provider for the district’s elementary schools. The new contract with Open Kitchens will reduce the price of a breakfast with milk to $2.30, down from the current rate of $2.70, and the cost of a lunch with milk will be $4.48, down from the current rate of $4.75.

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