The mood at the start of Billings School District 2’s budget committee meeting was joyful.
“How wonderful it is that the voters approved two mill levies recommended to the board by this committee,” said Joel Guthals, a trustee on the SD2 board and chairman of the budgeting committee, which is made up primarily of community members and district employees.
After those initial comments, the committee got right to business in a meeting that lasted four hours.
Thomas Harper, the district’s financial director, said the passage of the $1.8 million mill levy for the elementary schools will allow the district to “buy back” the cuts the budget committee approved earlier this year, saving teacher jobs.
“No pink slips,” he said.
The committee members also heard from Bette Hunt, the district’s representative from Sodexho Food Services. The district’s five-year contract with Sodexho is in the process of being renewed this year.
Sodexho was the only company that bid on the contract this year. So, before recommending that the board renew the contract, the budgeting committee wanted Sodexho to address issues regarding purchasing local food, student participation in meal plans, and waste.
“We are interested in local purchasing,” Hunt said. “We’re willing to do these things.”
Sodexho has been in talks with Wheat Montana for bread products. However, because of the number of meals Sodexo serves in the district — 11,000 daily — it’s difficult to find local vendors that can meet the demand, Hunt said.
Sodexho meals are all served on disposable trays. Regarding waste, Hunt said some schools have moved to using plastic baskets lined with tissue paper to serve meals instead of the disposable trays. She said that was an option that SD2 could pursue.
Two elementary schoolteachers on the committee repeatedly asked how grade schools could better encourage young students to grab fruits and vegetables from lunchroom carts.
Hunt encouraged adults at the schools to model good eating habits and pointed to a program that Sodexo has put in place that encourages students to try new fruits and vegetables.
In the end, the committee voted to recommend that the board approve Sodexho’s contract bid.
The committee also voted to recommend to the board that it spend $1.8 million on building maintenance projects. The money comes from state and federal funding that must be used this summer.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or 657-1231.