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Haida Gwaii families prioritize hot lunches and extra classroom support

School district 50 staff presented community input on the budget May 31
Haida Gwaii families would like to see hot meals as a priority in the school district’s budget. Pictured are students at Juneau-Douglas High School eating lunch on March 31. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Hot lunches and extra support in the classroom are among families’ top budget priorities, according to survey results shared by the Haida Gwaii School District (SD 50)during a board meeting on May 31.

There were 66 responses to the six-question poll asking respondents which programs, services, activities and initiatives they wanted the district to keep, what they wanted the district to add and what they felt could be eliminated or reduced.

Some of the most common responses for things families wanted to keep or add were extracurriculars, mental health support for students, incorporation of Haida language and culture, hot lunches and before and after-school programs.

When presented with six items and asked to rank them in order of priority, respondents selected hot lunch programs or extra support in the classroom as their number one priority.

Kevin Black, secretary-treasurer for SD 50, presented a cost analysis for a five-day hot lunch program at every school in the district.

The numbers were calculated using a food cost of $5 per student per day and two different staffing scenarios. The first scenario gave each school a food staff position for 20 hours per week and the second allocated 25 hours per week for a food staff position.

Even the more conservative 20-hour staffing scenario resulted in a budget shortfall of over $491,000, after including grants from CommunityLINK, MAZON and Gwaii Trust.

There was a discussion around alternative models, such as having families pay for the meals to offset the costs or limiting hot meals to only a few days a week.

Julia Breese, school trustee, did not think that limiting hot meals to only the students who pay for them would work at Port Clements Elementary.

“I know, in the after-school programs that I work in, eating together is a really big important part of community building. So I would be uncomfortable offering the program if a child wasn’t allowed to attend because parent caregivers didn’t spend the money or buy into it,” she said.

As next steps, the school board will be approaching principals for feedback about the different options discussed and will be looking for grant opportunities to fund the program.

There were not very many survey responses to the questions asking what the district could eliminate or reduce and ideas for other efficiency or cost-saving measures.

READ MORE: Haida Gwaii’s Local Food to School program a model for other communities

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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