Flint, MI—Food for Flint Community Schools is getting expensive.

To keep their kitchen running, the district has to operate an entire school building—Northwestern High School—that no longer has any students or teachers in it. Beyond the cost of operating the kitchen, keeping Northwestern heated and maintained costs the district about $200,000 a year.

The Board voted to close the building to students in July 2020 after learning it needed $4 million in repairs to be compliant with Michigan regulations. In September 2020, the board had to choose between boarding up the parts of Northwestern that weren’t in use to save on utility costs or installing air conditioning in eight schools. Board members unanimously agreed that air conditioning for students was more important and to wait to take Northwestern out of service until the following year. 

“I’m going to be transparent, it’s very expensive. One of the last bills that we had was $26,000 for Consumers Energy for one month. Heat and electrical,” Flint Community Schools Deputy Director of Finance Ayunna Dompreh said.

“When the actual junior high was in the building, the general fund was paying for those bills, for the utilities, because we were operating the school out of that building.” 

Now that food preparation is the building’s sole function, the food services fund must cover the operations, which are substantial expenses, Dompreh said.

Due to COVID-19, FCS has received an excess in food services funding, including a $170,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Education’s 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms program.

The additional funds have allowed them to afford the cost of operating the building while continuing to feed Flint students and families. Since March 2020, the district has provided over 1.5 million meals. 

“Right now, the food service has a lot of money because we’re in a pandemic. If we didn’t have the pandemic, I don’t know that the food service can maintain this,” Dompreh said. 

The district plans to purchase two vans for food delivery and install new ovens in Southwestern Academy and Holmes STEM Middle School Academy. 

The district also plans to continue their contract with Sodexo, a food services company. Board members requested a meeting with Sodexo to discuss healthier food options. A mid-year review is scheduled for April 15. 

The Flint Board of Education is expected to vote to increase their food services budget to cover the costs of operating Northwestern at the next Regular Board meeting on April 21. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...