Wake County Child Nutrition Service staff will prepare meals that will be distributed to students as schools begin on Tuesday, Jan.
North Carolina school districts are receiving $ 10 million to help them find enough school canteen staff to feed the students.
The State Board of Education on Thursday approved the allocation of $ 10 million of federal COVID aid to provide bonuses to new and existing employees in school nutrition programs. School districts are losing canteen workers to the private sector, resulting in double-digit vacancy rates.
“Staff shortages in school nutrition programs in the PSUs (public school units) are a serious problem,” Lynn Harvey, director of school nutrition and operations for the state Department of Public Education, told the board. “Some power supplies report bottlenecks of 20 to 25%.
“This, of course, has a direct impact on the ability of our PSUs to deliver meals to all students, as meals are available to all students for free while simultaneously providing meals to these virtual learners and others in the community.”
State education leaders say the bonuses are especially needed given all that school nutrition workers have been doing to feed students during the coronavirus pandemic. In the past 18 months, the school’s nutritionists have distributed more than 210 million meals to children.
“The work done by North Carolina’s school nutrition teams over the past year has been nothing short of remarkable,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said in a press release. “Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school’s nutrition staff did everything possible to provide meals to the students, be it through extended opening hours or home deliveries.”
Bonuses for new and existing employees
“We know this $ 10 million allocation will be an important resource in helping districts recruit and retain additional school nutrition staff to meet the needs of our students,” said Truitt.
Harvey said part of the problem is that school districts are competing with service companies for staff. In addition, school districts need more workers to keep up with increased demand from the federal government for all students to have free school breakfast and lunch this school year.
In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, the district started the school year last week with a 27.3% vacancy rate among its child feeding staff.
The school districts must apply for the money, which is partly allocated according to the number of their students. Districts can use the money to provide rewards for hiring new cafeteria staff and / or rewards for retaining existing staff.
In addition to a shortage of canteen staff, schools have to contend with a shortage of food.
“The menu will look a little different so we beg our families and communities for mercy as these changes have come,” said Harvey. “Our school nutrition heroes, as I will call them, work non-stop to ensure that the needs of all students are taken into account during this time.”
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T. Keung Hui has been reporting on K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school staff, and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is on Wake County, but he also deals with statewide education issues.