Saturday October 27, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union committee is attempting to change a policy to limit what another school district can sell to students within the same building.

While the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center leases space in the building that houses Mount Anthony Union High School, unlike its neighbor the CDC is not a part of the SVSU. But the SVSU Food Service Advisory Committee (FSAC) wants to ban foods with little to no nutritional value from the CDC school store, which has on its shelves candy bars, chips and other snacks.

The existing SVSU wellness policy states that "foods of minimal nutritional value ... shall not be sold in food service areas during breakfast and lunch periods." The committee discussed at its meeting Thursday changing the words "food service areas," which under state and federal definitions refer only to the cafeteria, to "on school property."

Another part of the policy states that food sold outside the cafeteria, to the extent practicable, shall comply with guidelines established by the Vermont Departments of Health and Education, which recommend not selling foods with minimal nutritional value.

The FSAC will draft revisions to the wellness policy in an attempt to encompass the CDC school store over the next month before forwarding a proposal to the SVSU Policy Committee. Members of the committee said Thursday they believe if the policy is written to include the sale of food throughout the entire high school building the CDC will have to follow it as well.

"It's the Mount Anthony campus. It's a Mount Anthony facility they (CDC) lease," said Richard Pembroke, SVSU chief financial officer.

About 95 percent of students who take classes at CDC come from MAUHS.

Whether a revised policy would have that impact on the CDC store remains to be seen, as CDC board members said at a meeting earlier this month they do not believe the SVSU has any influence on the food sold on its campus store.

At CDC's Oct. 15 meeting, Chairman Jim Boutin asked for the formation of a subcommittee to come up with recommendations for a policy regarding food sold at the school store. The recommendation came following an article published in the Banner last month about concerns the FSAC raised in September. Boutin stopped short of agreeing with the FSAC, though.

"This is a marketing program. It's a curriculum and it can't be sacrificed at the cost of what someone else is saying it should be," Boutin said.

Boutin said Friday the committee, which includes himself, Kevin Goodhue, Edward Letourneau and Larry Johnson, have met and discussed making some changes in the food that is offered, as well as adding more merchandise such as school clothing. Boutin said the CDC board is conscious of the situation and is considering improvements.

When told SVSU is looking at a policy change to govern what CDC may sell, Boutin said he interpreted that as a threat, adding that it would be better for everyone involved if they worked together. Boutin said he was unaware of the FSAC meeting, and no one from SVSU has contacted him regarding their concerns.

"Instead of coming to us, instead of trying to work out a solution, they're putting us on the defensive," Boutin said.

On Oct. 15, other members of the CDC board voiced stronger opinions in opposition to the FSAC tactics.

"It's a store. We sell things that we have customers to buy. That's what America is based on. That's what we do," Goodhue said. "If they don't like competition, too bad."

Edward Letourneau agreed CDC should not be influenced by SVSU.

"We're not here serving meals, per se, and we don't have to comply with any federal regulations. The people who come to the store choose to do it out of their own free will," Letourneau said. "If anything, we should allow the students to decide what products are profitable for the store. That's the concept behind the campus store."

Laurie Colgan, director of child nutritional programs for the Vermont Department of Education, said last month there is no state nor federal nutritional guidelines at this time that school stores must follow, although the federal government is expected to come out with some this fall, or possibly as late as next spring.

Maria Lanoue, a Mount Anthony Union Middle School teacher who is on the FSAC, said the question may not be why CDC should have to change the food it serves, but instead, why not?

"The bottom line is, why wouldn't you?" she said. "If you are an educational institution, I don't care who you're governed by, wouldn't you want to provide the best? Something that is healthy for your students as a part of that education?"

CDC Director and Superintendent James Culkeen said at the Oct. 15 meeting that the store is already looking into healthier options.

"I did meet with our instructors there and they are being proactive themselves. They're meeting with their suppliers, asking what alternatives may be available. Everything from reduced size candy bars to healthier alternatives," Culkeen said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi