Cafeterias at four Wichita schools should be more comfortable, colorful and efficient this fall after school board members approved $500,000 worth of improvements Monday.
“We’re reusing the most uncomfortable stools I have ever sat on and continuing to have students try to sit on those,” board member Joy Eakins said. “So I don’t think we’re being wasteful” in approving cafeteria makeovers.
“Not just schools but businesses have learned this: Those old cafeterias – people don’t want to eat in those,” Eakins added. “They want something that lifts them up, inspires them, inspires creativity, relieves stress. Those areas – and good food – will help our students do better.”
Changes at West High, South High, Mayberry Middle and Robinson Middle schools will include different types of seating, such as booths and high-top tables, as well as decorative “skins” on windows and fresh decor in school colors.
The rooms will be redesigned to function as meeting or study spaces in addition to lunchrooms. Other changes, including more cashier stations, should ease lunch-line traffic.
A sketch of the proposed West High cafeteria showed walls noting the school’s various “academies” and seating that looked more like a restaurant than a traditional school lunchroom. Some tables at Robinson Middle School could be decorated with purple and gold rams, the school mascot.
Vicki Hoffman, director of nutrition services, said officials consulted with students and staff members at the four schools to “find out how they work, what they want and what would best meet their needs in order to have the cafeteria be a place that students really want to come.”
During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, former State Board of Education member Walt Chappell criticized the proposed cafeteria expenditure. He said the district instead should close high school campuses during lunch – not allowing juniors and seniors to leave school – and should have multiple lunch periods so students would have more time and space in the cafeteria.
“Do not allow the students … to go out and get their 2-liter bottle of pop and a bag of Cheetos,” Chappell said. “They are not getting a good lunch, and we do not serve them well.”
Superintendent John Allison said the changes, which should greet students this fall, are “much more than just trying to jazz up a cafeteria.”
“There is some aspect to making the cafeteria less institutionalized,” he said. “But the lion’s share of the funds here are for … aspects that go beyond just lunch. They provide opportunities for students before and after school as well as just being as efficient as possible.”
Also on Monday, Jim Freeman, the district’s chief financial officer, presented more than $18 million in capital outlay expenses the board could consider adding to its 2014-15 budget to take advantage of looser restrictions and additional funding.
The list included computers for students and staff members, software, security enhancements, wireless infrastructure, copiers and facility maintenance.
Freeman said he plans to build the budget based on a capital outlay mill levy of 8 mills – the maximum allowed and nearly twice the current rate of 4.25 mills – but prioritize expenses in case board members opt to set the levy lower.