Miller Place elementary students must bring lunches for two months

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Elementary school students must brown-bag it for meals in the Miller Place district for at least two months as a switch is made to a food-service management company, officials said Thursday.

Students in the district's two elementary schools -- Andrew Muller Primary School and Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School -- were told to bring their lunches until late October or early November. The two schools' enrollment is about 1,300 students; Muller Primary serves grades K-2 and Sound Beach has grades 3-5.

Food options also are limited for students at North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School, district officials announced to parents earlier this week. Classes started Wednesday.

District officials declined to be interviewed. In a statement, the district said it no longer was financially viable to offer the food program in-house. A vendor has not been selected. Meals will be provided for students who qualify for free and reduced meals.

Under the now-jettisoned program, the district has lost more than $400,000 over the past three years. The program is supposed to be self-sustaining.

School officials said parents were notified of the situation through automatic phone calls before the start of school.

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The district in January began labor negotiations with the Miller Place Cafeteria Union. In mid-June, the district and the union agreed to dissolve the union. Its members, under a memorandum of agreement, were guaranteed a "like position" with whatever food service company is chosen.

As negotiations were continuing, the district said, it could not issue a public bid for food services.

"If we had, we would have been considered to be bargaining in bad faith," the statement said. "In summary, the process of securing a food service company could not begin until the labor negotiations concluded with the union."

For now, the Handy Pantry Food Stores shop in Sound Beach is providing breakfast and cold lunches to high school students, school officials said. Starting Monday, hot items will be offered as well.

Middle school parents had to send children to school with lunch through Friday. Starting Monday, the Bagel Deli Gourmet shop will provide a la carte selections.

The food items are being sold at prices comparable to what students have been accustomed to paying for school lunches, district officials said.

A special pizza and bagel lunch day is being arranged for Sept. 12 for elementary students by the Parent Teacher Organization, and more are expected to be arranged.

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