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Audubon Charter School officials debate switching to KIPP’s food provider

Audubon Charter School may switch food providers next year, spurred in part by complaints from students about the quality of their meals, according to a school official and parents.

The school gets breakfast and lunch through the Orleans Parish School Board in its capacity as Audubon’s School Food Authority.

The offerings are so bad that kids are opting to go hungry rather than eat lunch, facilities manager Alisa Dupre told the school’s board of directors at their April meeting on Saturday.

“They pick up a meal and most of the time it goes into the garbage can,” Dupre said. “We have a concern about the kids just not eating food.”

Gloria Bingmon, a vice-president of Audubon’s Parent Teacher Association, wholeheartedly agreed.

“The parents, when they come to talk to me, they complain. They say, ‘We have great teachers, a decent program, but why is the food so bad?’”

“The food is terrible,” Bingmon said

Dupre and Bingmon recommended that the school hire the KIPP charter network’s food provider, Revolution Foods. Dupre and members of Audubon’s Parent Teacher Organization recently tried a sample lunch at a KIPP school.

They liked what they saw, they told the board: students eating freshly prepared meals that had never been frozen, with high-quality ingredients like tilapia and fresh vegetables.

“The food is low-fat and low-sodium, but it tastes good,” Bingmon said. “All the parents would be super happy.”

Dupre’s report included photos of an Audubon lunch alongside one from Revolution Foods. Board members agreed that the photograph from Revolution Foods looked better.

If the board agrees on the change — a decision that will be made at next month’s board meeting — the price of student lunches would increase for some parents.

About 46 percent of Audubon students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. Unsubsidized lunches cost parents $1 for breakfast and $2 for lunch, Dupre said.

If the school switched to Revolution Foods, students would have to pay $2 for breakfast and $3 for lunch, Dupre said.

“How many parents will this impact?” board member Jacqueline Smith asked Dupre. She said she hoped parents would weigh in with their views. “A $20 increase a month might be a lot for some parents.”

But the change would lower the school’s food costs. KIPP would charge Audubon roughly $14,200 as an administrative fee, while the OPSB charges a flat fee of $30 per student, based on total enrollment, including an administrative fee. This year, the fee from OPSB came to $24,510, Dupre said.

Board chairman the Rev. Cornelius Tilton noted that if more students start eating school lunch, the projected cost could increase significantly, but so would the reimbursement that the school gets from students buying lunch, based on the rules of the national School Food Authority program.

The school gets 25 cents for every student buying lunch, Dupre said.

Tilton said he needed more data before making such a big decision for Audubon.

“I’m looking at these numbers and I always like to compare apples to apples,” Tilton said, adding that he wished he had been given more advance notice about the option to change. “A few more pieces of real comparative data presented to us prior to the next board meeting so we can be prepared to make a decision on this would be great.”

Some board members seemed to favor the change, but at least one expressed doubts.

“I’m skeptical that there would be an incremental improvement from the KIPP food versus the food now,” board member Shawn Barney said. He asked if the school couldn’t just take away recess for students who don’t touch their lunch, as a way to encourage them to eat.

The board laughed, and quickly dismissed the idea.

“You don’t want to do that to yourself,” Tilton said.

In other news, the school’s Parent Teacher Organization has donated roughly $45,000 for the construction and improvement of new bathrooms at the Broadway campus, accountant Bill Hicks told the board.

“We’re really appreciative of that,” Cornelius said.

Board members Cornelius Tilton, Shawn Barney, Robert Sloan, Jacqueline Smith, Gregory Thompson, Eva Alito and Derek Bardell were present at Saturday’s meeting, as were principal Janice Dupuy and other school officials.

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