Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy has proposed eliminating a classroom breakfast program that feeds nearly 200,000 low-income students daily, citing criticism by the teachers union that it is messy, draws pests and cuts into instructional time.
The $6.1 million for Breakfast in the Classroom has been redlined from the 2013-14 budget that Deasy will submit to the school board on May 14, although board members can vote to restore the funding.
"I'm trying to respond to UTLA's concern that the district is headed in the wrong direction and that many members believe that Breakfast in the Classroom is a bad idea," Deasy said. "But I think that putting food in the stomachs of hungry kids is a good thing, so I'm going to be asking the school board to find $6.1 million in revenue so we can keep feeding our students and keep 900 (cafeteria) jobs intact."
Just last week, United Teachers Los Angeles released the results of a member survey in which more than half of 729 respondents said the morning meal program had drawn rodents and insects to their classrooms and cut into their lessons. At the same time, 88 percent said they would support a breakfast program if it was served in the cafeteria rather than the classroom.
"UTLA supports breakfasts for students at school as long as it is served in the cafeteria," President Warren Fletcher said. "We are ready to sit down with the district and all stakeholders
to brainstorm about alternatives that will allow children to receive nutritional breakfasts without sacrificing instructional time."
Breakfast in the Classroom was rolled out last fall at nearly 300 schools, with plans to expand it to about 700 campuses over the next three years.
Citing research showing that youngsters who eat breakfast perform better academically and have higher attendance rates, officials hoped to boost the number of kids eating a morning meal by serving it in the classroom instead of the school cafeteria. And advocates say BIC was essential for the 80 percent of Los Angeles Unified students living in poverty.
"I don't think that Superintendent Deasy wants to eliminate the program," school board President Monica Garcia said. "I think he's asking the board to affirm whether a program that has more kids eating breakfast and getting to school on time and putting more people to work -- should we continue this. And my voice is going to be yes."
SEIU Local 99 leaders expressed dismay over the prospect of ending the breakfast program, saying it would result in the layoffs of more than 900 cafeteria workers and janitors. The union is organizing a series of rallies at local campuses next week to urge the school board to continue funding the program.
"Classroom lessons are important, but we cannot ignore the social and economic realities that impact our children's learning," said Courtni Pugh, the union's executive director. "This is about our families and communities. In the weeks leading up to an announced school board vote on Breakfast in the Classroom on May 14, SEIU Local 99 members will be joining with other parents in our neighborhoods and in our schools, actively advocating to save this essential program."