Food service staffing shortages leaving Madison students, parents wanting more

MMSD actively recruiting to fill positions, expects situation to improve in coming weeks

MADISON, Wis. — Parents and district officials alike admit providing students in the Madison Metropolitan School District with satisfying lunches this year has been a challenge.

At issue, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said, is a common refrain: not enough staff.

Between breakfast and lunch combined, MMSD serves over 150,000 meals each week.

Parents told News 3 Now that kids are getting the same thing every day, while others said that lunches are often like a small Lunchable meal, claiming they know of middle schoolers receiving six slices of turkey as the main part of lunch.

The district emphasized that food availability isn’t the issue, it’s a lack of staff to prepare quality food.

“We haven’t so much have had a shortage in food availability, it’s a shortage in variety and complexity in what we are able to offer,” LeMonds said Wednesday.

Studies show that undernourished kids have a harder time learning and concentrating. Those who eat better have better grades and fewer behavioral problems.

In a statement earlier this week, LeMonds said the meals being served still meet nutritional standards.

These factors and others are a big concern for parents.

One mom, who identified herself only as Karlee, packs lunches for her kids and was bothered by what the district is serving.

“I think that’s extremely bothersome,” she said. “I think that nutrition is such an important part of childhood and in life in general, so if they’re not getting a full nutritious meal, what’s the point? Why are they being forced to come here and sit through a lunch and parents aren’t even getting told about it?”

Another parent, Francesca Nimityongskul, said some teachers and parents are paying out of their own pockets for morning and afternoon snacks so students can concentrate.

“I do know the teachers do a great job of (providing a) morning and afternoon snack to try to offset that, and many teachers are emailed, I was just emailed last week asking for more snacks,” she said.

LeMonds said the staff shortage caught the district on its heels, and they’re working hard to play catchup.

“Things are getting better every day, so we’re much better than we were yesterday and over the next couple days we’ll be in better shape,” LeMonds said.

When asked if the district foresaw food service staffing issues being as bad as they turned out to be, LeMonds said officials hoped it wouldn’t turn out this way “but we are certainly working hard to reverse that trend as quickly as we can.”

In addition, the district is already seeing an “expansion” of menu items, he said, adding district officials hope to be at a full menu within a two-week period as more staff members come on board.

When it comes to staffing, LeMonds said the district is hoping to hire around 30 food service employees and is actively recruiting. Some new staff members are being onboarded but that can take time.

He added that if each school had just one volunteer, it’d make a big difference.

“It’s really just a matter of time. It’s figuring out how to keep our students satisfied, nutritionally, over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

To apply for an open position, or to volunteer, click here.