NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – The School Nutrition Association (SNA)’s decision to hire a new firm for advocacy and legislative services prompted some members and outside observers to question whether the association is so fed up with new school lunch requirements that they are backing away from being advocates for children’s nutritional needs.
SNA announced last week that it has retained the services of Barnes & Thornburg LLP for its advocacy and legislative services, breaking off a long-standing relationship with Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC and principal Marshall Matz.
“School Nutrition Association extends our deepest thanks and appreciation to Marshall Matz for more than 30 years of dedicated service to SNA and its members,” said SNA President Sandra Ford, SNS. “Marshall’s work on behalf of SNA has strengthened school nutrition programs for the millions of children who rely on healthy school meals.”
In a press release, Ford said it was an “ideal time for SNA to reflect on its advocacy strategies,” especially “in light of the historic regulatory challenges facing school nutrition professionals and with Child Nutrition Reauthorization on the horizon. Last year, USDA issued the first update to school meal pattern regulations in more than 15 years, and last month, the department released the first-ever regulations for competitive foods sold in school vending machines and a la carte lines.
However, SNA’s decision to hire a new firm prompted a variety of criticisms from nutrition advocates who fear that the move indicates that school districts want to “dig in their hills” and work to stop healthier meals from being served in schools, according to one nutrition advocate. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act requires USDA to issue 15 new regulations for food served in schools and many school districts have complained about the requirements to serve more fruits and vegetables and limit total calorie intake.
Past SNA president Jane Wynn circulated a letter entitled “My View” on July 7, which is highly critical of SNA’s move and what she believes to be the broader implications of the decision.
“Marshall and OFW Law’s bipartisan team has now been replaced as legislative counsel by the law firm that serves as our General Counsel. I am sure there are efficiencies in combining these services in one law firm but Barnes & Thornburg has little expertise or credibility on nutrition programs,” Wynn wrote.
“I am not concerned about Marshall, who is in high demand. I am very worried about the future of SNA and the millions of children we serve each day,” she added. “We were out front and a leader when we were expanding our programs, but we are on defense when it comes to obesity and health. When obesity started to gain national attention, SNA rejected Marshall’s idea to focus our foundation on obesity and jump to the front of the issue. The White House, USDA and allied organizations now see us as a barrier to improving the quality of CN (child nutrition) programs. That is just terrible.”
Wynn said that “SNA must be a leader on children’s health just as we were on fighting hunger. To be effective for our own members and have political power in Washington we must be about the children we serve. “ “Dr. Josephine Martin, former Director of Child Nutrition for the State of Georgia, and another past president of SNA, echoed Wynn’s comments. She called Matz a “strategic thinker that helped moved the program forward in good times, and protect it from devastation in the down times.”
The controversy over the future of advocacy efforts at SNA comes just as the association prepares to host their annual meeting in Kansas City from July 14-17 with over 6,500 participants. The group also has a new CEO at the helm – its third in three years.
SNA spokesperson Diane Pratt-Heavner downplayed the controversy, saying it had been a long time since the organization issued a request for proposals for legislative services. They considered proposals from six firms and interviewed four of those.
“A selection committee comprised of SNA Board members, SNA’s CEO and Staff Vice President of Child Nutrition and Policy reviewed each proposal, conducted interviews with prospective firms, and determined that Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s vision offers the best match for SNA’s advocacy goals at this time.”
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