California Department of Education fights school district for daring to spend money on children’s education.

Boy eating lunch

I wrote a few days ago about the fact that the State of California Department of Education has gone after the Kentfield School District in Marin County, because the District’s food program relies on PTA volunteers, rather than on paid union members.  Our local paper has an update on the story say that, for the time being, the School Board has decided to continue with business as usual, rather than acceding to the State’s demands.  What I love about the most recent report is a single sentence.  Look upon it and marvel:

One of the state’s concerns is that the extra revenue from the lunches are used to fund school programs, books and equipment. The letter said that it’s the district’s responsibility to oversee food service, employ staff and use cafeteria revenue for expenses only.

Think about it:  the State of California Department of Education is appalled that a school district would spend money on education, books, and classroom equipment.  How dare they!

I also learned one new thing from the story update:  the Kentfield PTA actually provides the food itself.  In my children’s’ elementary school district, the PTA was never more than a facilitator.  It did charge a slight premium, and the parents who paid for hot lunch knew that the premium would go to PTA activities supporting education.  In our case, though, when the state protested, the district caved immediately, kicked out the PTA, and started sending all the money (more than the PTA charged) to a third-party provider that didn’t give any residual profits back to the school.

The PTA president, who seems like a conservative in the making (if she isn’t one already), spells out the whole situation with great clarity:

PTA President Karen Loebbaka said what makes the program different is that instead of having a company come in and make profits, the PTA gets to put its profits toward education.

“We’re able to channel tens of thousands of dollars back to our district,” Loebbaka said.

She said the program is voluntary and doesn’t require students to participate.

“If you don’t like it, it doesn’t serve the needs of your family, pack a lunch,” she said.

School supplies

I am irresistibly reminded of the bad old joke:

First man: Come the Revolution, we’ll all drive Rolls Royces.
Second man: What if I don’t want to drive a Rolls Royce?
First man: Come the Revolution, you’ll have to.

Upscale liberal Kentfield discovers that scary phrase “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help”

Although constrained by the vapid, politically-correct curriculum coming out of California Department of Education, Marin County manages to have very good schools that produce students who are as well educated as is possible given the constraints of a union-controlled system.  A distinguishing characteristic of most Marin County schools is the fact that they are very, very small, sometimes numbering only a few hundred students.  In upscale communities such as Tiburon, Larkspur, and Kentfield, the facilities (all of which were fairly recently remodeled thanks to the generosity of Marin voters) are gorgeous — they look like country-clubs.  One of the ways these small schools were able to focus on making the classrooms, libraries, school grounds, and administrative offices lovely was to skip having a separate cafeteria.  In our neck of the woods, up until a few years ago kids got lunch either because the parents’ packed them one or because the PTA ran a food program, staffed entirely by volunteers.

A word about these volunteers:  they are, in significant part, the backbone of Marin County’s high-quality education.  Most of the volunteers are women, and most are educated at least through college, and many of them spent years, even decades, in high-powered jobs.  Once these hyper-successful women they realize that their kids are the most important job, they turn to their kids’ schools as an outlet for their intellectual energy and vast experience.  They help the kids put on school shows that, in terms of costumes and sets, could rival a quality off-Broadway production.  They appear daily in the kids’ classrooms to help with reading groups and generally put in face time.  When class parties roll around, these moms are out in force with food, drinks, entertainment, and goody bags.

One of the main services many of these moms support with their time and effort is PTA sponsored lunches.  In my experience, the PTA doesn’t actually make the food.  Instead, it’s a facilitator from a reputable third-party provider (Kid Chow, for example), which prepares tasty, healthy food in a fully licensed food-preparation facility.  The PTA moms then show up at the school every day to take delivery, to sort the orders, and to hand out the food to the kids.  In return for this, the PTA asks parents to pay a premium price for the food, with the difference between the food’s cost and the parent’s actual outlaw being put to all sorts of PTA programs aimed at advancing the children’s education.  It is a win-win:  parents don’t have to make lunches for the kids, the kids get healthy food, a good organization such as Kid Chow makes a profit, and the PTA makes money that it puts right back into the kids’ education.

There’s only one problem with this wonderful system:  the government doesn’t like it, as one of the posher school districts has just discovered (emphasis mine):

The Kentfield School District, under fire from state education officials, is defending the legality of its volunteer-run school lunch program against claims it violates California law.

Prompted by an anonymous complaint, the state Department of Education sent a letter to Kentfield Schools Superintendent Mary Jo Pettigrew last month ordering the district to take over the lunch program from the Parent Teacher Association. The letter said the program, which has been run by the PTA for years at Bacich Elementary School and Kent Middle School, violates numerous sections of state education code.

“The CDE is requiring the (district) to dismiss the (PTA) from this activity and assume responsibility for the school meal program as required in State law,” the letter states.

In its letter, the state takes issue with the PTA’s practice of running a lunch program with volunteers and using extra revenues to fund school programs, books and equipment. The letter cites state law requiring school districts to oversee food service, employ staff for school lunch and use cafeteria revenues only for expenses only, among other provisions.

I’ll readily concede that some of the parents in the school district were raising legitimate complaints about the PTA program:

It is not clear which specific complaint sparked the state’s crackdown, but several parents have criticized the Kentfield lunch program in the past year. Last year, a group of parents complained the PTA was serving cheap food to cut costs so it could recoup more money to donate for school programs.

“Every day of the week it was really low quality food,” said Benjamin Wang, a father who has been critical of the food program.

Wang said he is one of several parents who have contacted state and federal officials about the lunch program, but it is not clear who prompted the Department of Education’s letter.

These parents are deluding themselves, though, if they think that bringing the government into the matter will improve the kids’ dining choices.  Government-kitchens are renowned for serving food that kids loath, a problem made worse by Michelle Obama’s “healthy food” mandate.  If parents want their kids to have decent food, they can pack them a brown-bag lunch.  If they want convenience, they’d do a lot better to work with the PTA and see the money go back to the school, than to bring the government in, watch food quality decline even further, lose revenue for PTA-sponsored educational programs, and fund even more union employment.