PEI

New pilot for P.E.I. school lunch program adds private contractors into the mix

What P.E.I.'s new school lunch program will look like will be decided based on the outcomes of two separate pilot projects to start later this month and run until the end of the current school year, the province's standing committee on education and economic growth was told Tuesday.

Province says schools will get 1 of 2 models in the fall of 2020

One of the two pilot programs will see existing food service vendors at three Island schools offer healthy lunch options. École Pierre-Chiasson in Deblois, West Kent Elementary in Charlottetown and Montague High School will take part in that pilot. (gpointstudio/Shutterstock)

What P.E.I.'s new school lunch program will look like will be decided based on the outcomes of two separate pilot projects to start later this month and run until the end of the current school year, the province's standing committee on education and economic growth was told Tuesday.

John Cummings, executive director of educational services with the P.E.I Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, said one pilot will see existing food service vendors at three schools offer healthy lunch options. École Pierre-Chiasson in Deblois, West Kent Elementary in Charlottetown and Montague High School will take part in that pilot.

Another pilot involving the Kinkora family of schools will see the kitchen at Kinkora High used as a food distribution hub. Two staff with the Public Schools Branch will prepare meals and deliver them to nearby Amherst Cove Consolidated and Somerset Consolidated schools.

Initially, the province had planned on using only the "hub model," with school board staff preparing and distributing meals, but Education Minister Brad Trivers told the committee "we want to make sure that vendors get a chance to get in there and provide the food, and we don't eliminate them from the process."

'We're going to make sure it's successful,' says Brad Trivers of the program. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

But MLAs from all sides questioned whether for-profit companies like Chartwells, which will be involved in the pilot program at Montague High, can meet the program's objectives of providing healthy meals using local ingredients at a cost per student of just $5.

"I think there's definitely challenges," said Health Minister James Aylward, referring to his own background in the food service and hospitality industries. "I'm completely supportive of the program, but there's definitely challenges."

Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald suggested the province tap into growing revenues to completely fund the program for all students — using the government hub model — for one year.

"We spend money on all kinds of other things," he said. "Let's take a look at this, make it work and then decipher what's the best route going forward."

Grant component

Cummings said both pilots would include a grant component to enable students with financial challenges to participate.

This is a priority for the government, you might even go as far to say it's a flagship project, because this is about the wellness of our population.— Brad Trivers, minister of education

Addressing concerns from Liberal MLA Sonny Gallant, Cummings said the grants will be "invisible" so that "there would be no distinguishing" whether students paid or didn't pay, although he said the process would vary from school-to-school and the specific details have yet to be worked out.

Cummings said contractors participating in the program could also receive grants to allow them to meet the requirement of offering healthy meals at a cost of $5. He said those contractors will also be allowed to continue to offer their existing menu options, although those options will eventually have to meet the criteria of a new healthy food policy currently under development by the Public Schools Branch.

A non-profit organization will be formed to implement and oversee the school lunch program, says John Cummings, executive director of educational services with the P.E.I Department of Education and Lifelong Learning. (Shutterstock)

Another detail Cummings said hadn't been worked out yet is how food providers will be encouraged to use local ingredients in their meal options.

Public and corporate donations

Over the coming months, Cummings said a non-profit organization will be formed to implement and oversee the school lunch program. He said that organization would be able to accept donations from the public and corporations.

Facing questions from the Green Party as to whether his department is fully prepared for the launch, Trivers reiterated government's commitment to have the program at all Island schools in the fall of 2020.

"This is a priority for the government, you might even go as far to say it's a flagship project, because this is about the wellness of our population," Trivers told the committee. "We're going to make sure it's successful."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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