Lunchroom Worker Shortages in MMSD and their Impact on School Food Nutrition


Sophia Jiang

In the recent weeks, MMSD parents and staff have filed complaints regarding the school food quality and service, citing limited nutritional value, incorrect listing of menu items, and repeated menu items. The district has used the method of pulling staff from the central production center, where the majority of food preparation happens before it is sent out to schools. However, implementing this strategy limits opportunities for scratch cooking and batch cooking.

One of the main problems is that MMSD is facing severe staffing shortages. Some food service positions do not include enough hours to qualify for benefits, and the starting hourly wage for food service workers in MMSD ranges from $16.44 to $20.61, and the $16.44 rate is tied for lowest starting wage in the district. 

A fully staffed MMSD nutrition department has 131 employees, but 26 full-time and 17 part-time positions are currently vacant, with 8-10 staff calling out on a daily basis, making it difficult to meet the benchmark staffing level of 1 service worker per elementary school, 4 workers per middle school, and 7 per high school. 

However, MMSD states that improvements in school food are around the corner. MMSD Associate Superintendent of Operations Cedric Hodo stated that while MMSD is experiencing these shortages, they are realigning staff to allow more options on menus.

“Next week, you will begin to see more complex items,” Hodo said, listing meatloaf, mashed potatoes, hamburgers, chicken tenders, salads and “Asian” dishes as examples. “We’re getting away from the pizza, what I call routine, easy-to-execute items.”

He also states that the prepackaged model, which was executed at the beginning of the year, was “an opportunity for us to get in, understand where we’re at and then begin to create some variety around options.”