Funds will be used for recruitment and retention bonuses for school nutrition personnel

Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — The State Board of Education has approved the allocation of $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to help local school nutrition operations across North Carolina recruit and retain needed staff.

School nutrition program leaders in districts and schools have expressed the need for competitive compensation packages in order to attract and keep qualified personnel and to better compete against the service industry at-large. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued federal regulation waivers allowing school food authorities to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students during the 2021-2022 school year. Additional School Nutrition personnel are required to meet this critical need.

The approval of the funding allocation signals continued support for the state’s School Nutrition Programs. Over the past 18 months of the pandemic, School Nutrition personnel have served over 210 million meals to children in need, playing a vital role in supporting students and families statewide.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt and State Board of Education Vice Chair Alan Duncan praised school nutrition personnel for their commitment to serving students throughout the pandemic.

“The work of North Carolina’s school nutrition teams over the past year has been nothing short of remarkable,” Truitt said. “Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, school nutrition personnel went above and beyond to provide meals to students, whether that was through extended hours or home deliveries. We know this $10 million allotment will be a critical resource to support districts as they look to recruit and retain additional school nutrition personnel to meet the needs of our students.”

“Even when students were not able to physically be in a school building, our school nutrition staff worked around the clock, throughout the pandemic, to ensure our student’s nutritional needs were met,” Duncan said. “They worked every day on the front lines, preparing, serving and, in some cases, delivering meals to students.”

Recognizing the staffing challenges faced by many School Nutrition Programs, the NCDPI School Nutrition Division recommended the $10 million funding, allocated from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER II). Since expenditures for recruitment and retention purposes are atypical expenditures in School Nutrition Programs, the allotment of funds for this purpose would enable full use of the ESSER II funds appropriated for this purpose.

North Carolina’s School Nutrition Programs continue to be an instrumental component of North Carolina’s COVID-19 response in supporting the needs of food-insecure, vulnerable children and families. These programs and the personnel who lead and serve them remain essential to the division’s mission of nourishing students’ bodies and minds and the State Board of Education’s goals to eliminate opportunity gaps for students and increase school and district academic performance. School meals support the health and academic success of students, ensuring they have the nutrition they need throughout the day to learn. Under the existing USDA waivers, school nutrition teams across the state continue to provide meals through innovative and socially distanced approaches to support the return of students to in-person learning. These teams also provide meal pick-up and delivery options to families whose children are learning virtually.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) School Nutrition Division works with school and community partners to administer the federally assisted National School Breakfast and School Lunch Programs, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Special Milk Program, After School Snack Program, and Summer Nutrition Programs.