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New Tactics Found To Cut Costs: They're Even Taking Prunes

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The large chunk of funding already carved off the budget for the National School Lunch Program--and the near-certain prospect of more slicing ahead--may have enhanced the resourcefulness of some school-lunch officials. Following is a sampling of the strategies they are using to minimize the effects of the cuts.

Enlisting the aid of other school officials. Without the assistance of principals, teachers, unions, and system administrators, the New York City schools might have been forced to raise the prices on school lunches. Instead, according to Elizabeth Cagan, the district mounted an all-out effort to cut costs and notify parents of the changes in the eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches. "It's the first time in the history of the program when everybody worked together," Ms. Cagan said. "I think we've done very well."

Making better use of government commodities. North Dakota officials are finding that schools are no longer opting to use a clause in state law that allows them to refuse up to 20 percent of the commodities offered by the state. "They're even taking prunes," said Al Hohenstein, the food-service administrator for the state. In addition, officials in North Dakota and elsewhere are making better use of dairy products offered through the federal commodities program.

Eliminating food-service personnel. Administrators are reluctant to cut staff, but some districts have found that it is the only alternative. In Illinois, officials estimate that they have laid off or not rehired nearly 20 percent of the personnel who work in the state's school-food-service programs--approximately 4,000 people. Some North Dakota districts have not replaced employees who left.

Using local resources. It is not a strategy that would work everywhere, but in North Dakota, Mr. Hohenstein said, school officials are encouraging farmers to contribute produce and meat to the school-lunch program.

There and elsewhere, district officials are encouraging parents to volunteer in the lunchroom. In some cases, officials say, the budget cuts were a blessing in disguise: Parents are looking at the schools--lunch and all--and deciding they are not so bad after all.--S.W.

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