Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference in Washington on Feb. 25 and announced a policy change that he said would make the hiring of qualified school nutrition professionals easier for smaller and rural districts, where current requirements make such hires more difficult.
“We all agree that that our school meal programs are adhering to high standards but we’ve also heard from communities all across the country that the hiring rules are not always working as they were intended,” he said. “These small communities, mostly in rural areas, have difficulty hiring the talented people who want to serve their children, not because they’re not qualified, but because the rules were too restrictive that were describing the kind of education [and] experience to get the job. In the real world, there’s a lot of competition for [such individuals] these days.”
Perdue noted as an example that an individual working in a restaurant “may be an expert in putting together nutritious meals that kids may enjoy even if they have not worked in a school cafeteria before. But the previous rules said this experience was not relevant and a district could not hire that person. To me, that just did not make sense. Urban and suburban school districts have lots of highly credentialed people competing for these jobs but unfortunately, in our rural areas and smaller towns don’t have a large pool of credentialed candidates.”
Perdue reminded the LAC attendees that he had pledged last year to give such districts the flexibility to hire such qualified candidates and “so, today, I’m here to tell you that we are delivering on that promise,” he declared. “In the next few days, we will be publishing a final rule to bring flexibility to those hiring rules that apply to smaller school districts.”
The text of the rule is already up on the FNS website, he added.
The final rule can be found here. The changes include:
· For districts with 2,499 students or fewer, new directors now must only have relevant foodservice experience (think, restaurants) instead of school nutrition program experience;
· State agencies now have the discretion to consider documented volunteer or unpaid work as relevant experience for new school nutrition program directors in these small districts;
· State agencies now have the discretion to accept less than the required years of foodservice experience for a new director applicant at a school with fewer than 500 students if the applicant has the minimum required education; and
· Applicants for state directors of school nutrition programs can now be considered if they have a bachelor’s or advanced degree in specific fields.