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Debt-ridden Langley School Board loses only culinary arts program

A teacher at Walnut Grove Secondary School is lamenting the loss of its culinary arts program, the only of its kind in the Langley school district.

Mona Garga is the teacher in charge of the program. Garga says it's a popular program with 120 students, who throughout the course of a year learn baking and cooking skills, and obtain a Food Safe certificate. The students also prepare all of the meals provided in the school's cafeteria.

The program is a valuable way for students who aren't academically inclined to get their high school credits and graduate with job skills, says Garga, who has run the program for five years. "You can make a career in the culinary arts - it's not just a cooking class," she told The Tyee.

Garga says she is also concerned about the loss of healthy, affordable food options for the students. "For five dollars we provide a good, hot meal. . . roast chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables. I teach a healthy way of cooking."

Food service in the school cafeteria will likely be outsourced to a private company next year, says Garga.

Walnut Grove principal Jim Darby, who is ultimately responsible for the decision, directed The Tyee's requests for comment to the board.

According to the Langley School Board's communications manager Craig Spence, "a decision has not yet been made with regard to who will provide food services. . . "

In an email to The Tyee, Spence said the program was discontinued "in light of other educational priorities" at the school and that such decisions are based on "available funding, the per student cost of offering programs, the numbers of students who benefit from the program being offered, and how well the program meets the graduation plans of students."

However, Garga says the culinary arts program covered the cost of food ingredients and even made money by catering special events and meetings at the school. She said the program has been able to fund capital expenditures such as a new industrial oven and a school barbeque.

Auditor General John Doyle looked into operations of the Langley School Board last September in light of the board's $13.5 million debt. His report found dysfunction due to a lack of good working relationships amongst board trustees, and problems within the board's decentralized system, where each principal is responsible for their school's budget and deciding how to allocate government money.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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