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Rochester school board votes to increase meal spending, calls for more anti-racism teacher trainings

RCSD school board president Cynthia Elliot (left) and VP Beatriz LeBron (right) at the second budget deliberations on Thursday.
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RCSD school board president Cynthia Elliot (left) and VP Beatriz LeBron (right) at the second budget deliberations on Thursday.

School lunches at the Rochester City School District may get a boost in funding for the next school year.

The school board voted on Thursday to raise the city district’s budget for food services by $2.5 million after a presentation by district officials.

The menu, which is adaptable, includes daily meal themes. The budget also includes equipment installation for some school kitchens.

“I'm excited about the variety that's being provided to our students,” said school board member Camille Simmons, echoing her peers. “It's just so imperative, so... I'm happy for these babies. They deserve to eat well.”

The school district has struggled to hire and retain kitchen workers, and food quality has been an ongoing concern. Board member Amy Malloy said at a previous meal advisory committee meeting she was informed that up to 50% of certain meals are thrown out district-wide.

“That level of food waste is really concerning to me from a budget perspective, but also, just as a parent,” Malloy said at Thursday’s meeting. “We want to make sure that we're spending our funds wisely, but also serving our students food that is edible, and, and enjoyable.

Vice President Beatriz LeBron noted that school lunches have gotten so bad that students at School 15 in fourth through sixth grades did research on school lunches in other districts, which they’d presented to their classmates.

“This is a victory for our youth who have been advocating for this,” LeBron said. “We’re not going to give them and feed them pipe dreams. They are going to be watching and giving us feedback as we roll this out.”

However, LeBron said while she approves of the food service plan, she would still vote “no” on the overall budget because it fails to meet her standards.

Rochester city school board members are also urging the district to consider budgeting for anti-racism training for educators across the school system.

Board member Amy Malloy said on Thursday that since about 90% of city students are students of color, leadership needs to ensure that teachers are engaging in professional development that addresses anti-racism.

Her colleague Ricardo Adams says he’s concerned about how those trainings are vetted to begin with.

“I have to question the legitimacy of our intent, which is are we just doing it to check the box or are we going to be had the courage to push through,” Adams asked.

Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Black says there has been an increased interest in this kind of training recently, but said it can only be encouraged and not mandated.

This comes a week after a city school teacher was suspended with pay for allegedly making Black students pick cotton in a social studies class and referring to himself as “massah” in a lesson about slavery.

A student told WXXI News that it was a pattern of mistreatment from the teacher toward African American students.

The board is slated to meet on Tuesday to adopt the budget for the upcoming school year. It will then go to city council for review later that week.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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