Flavored milk is turning out to be a budget boost, early results from LAUSD pilot program find
Mike Szymanski | January 4, 2017
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Only one month’s worth of data is in, but if it holds true, bringing flavored milk back to the schools could offset some of LA Unified’s budget deficit.
At Tuesday’s Budget, Audit and Facilities meeting — the first official LA Unified committee meeting of 2017 — new Food Services Director Joseph Vaughn discussed the preliminary numbers collected from a pilot program of flavored milk at 27 school sites throughout the district.
In one month, the average waste of milk per student decreased while the number of school lunches being served at those sites increased by 1,005, Vaughn reported.
Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly, who sits on the committee, extrapolated the information and noted that if that were to hold out districtwide, it could lower the annual Food Services division deficit from $50 million a year to $20 million. Money is saved not only by decreasing the cost of waste disposal but also by increasing the number of lunches served, which brings in more federal dollars.
An independent financial review panel called a year ago for an immediate end to the cafeteria fund’s drain on the district’s general fund. Comparable school districts either break even or turn a profit on their food services, the panel reported.
“I want to give big kudos” to Vaughn who has been at the job for five months, Reilly said. “The numbers are really impressive.”
In October, the school board voted to launch a pilot program to look at bringing back strawberry and chocolate flavored milk, which were banned six years ago by former Superintendent John Deasy. The school board also discussed alternatives to animal-based milk and may consider soy-based milk in the future, prompted by a student’s initiative that brought actress Pamela Anderson to the board meeting.
“It is not our intent to put flavored milk back into the schools, but we do want to give the kids a choice, and it is clear that is what the kids want,” said Vaughn, who added he could find no study that speaks about the dangers of flavored milk but offered a Heart Association study that supported it. “It is a small amount of sugar.”
Committee chairperson and board member Mónica Ratliff noted that some families will always be against flavored milk and at least one milk producer was willing to create a special low-sugar flavored milk for the district. The concern erupted last September when a report from the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety showed that 600 tons of organic waste — the equivalent weight of 200 elephants — was thrown out every week, and much of it was milk, which the federal government requires to be distributed.
In this pilot program, schools that had low lunch attendance were identified and all were asked to volunteer, Vaughn said. Eleven schools offer flavored milk during lunch and supper, three schools are running an educational campaign about milk, three schools have a non-flavored milk display encouraging milk drinking by displaying cartons in coolers, and 10 schools have a mixed milk display offering all flavors of milk. November was a baseline month. (Click here for the schools in the program and what they are offering.)
The study discovered so far that for an average student picking up an 8-ounce carton of milk, 3.48 ounces are actually consumed. So more than half, 4.52 ounces, is thrown out, an average of 236 gallons a day. The schools offering flavored milk showed less than an ounce waste on all milk consumed.
Sites offering flavored milk so far found an increase in distribution while sites with non-flavored milk decreased. In December, sites with flavored milk decreased in waste while non-flavored milk increased in waste.
The pilot program lasts through the end of February, and then Vaughn will complete his report by March. He said preliminary reports show that supper intake of milk increased significantly as well.
Dawn Soto, a senior Food Services training specialist who visited all the school sites, said, “It was amazing to go to a school and hear a kid say, ‘Are you going to finish that?’ and they’re talking about the milk.”