Bill Urban, food service supervisor with the Mississippi Department of Education, met with board members about the options offered from the state.
“The program most districts have been hearing about is brand new. It is called the Community Eligibility Program,” said Urban. “The USDA governs the program that can provide free lunch to any school district in the nation that meets certain criteria.”
A monthly report is generated showing the number of children receiving free and reduced meals based on household income or SNAP benefits.
“The report calculates the identification student percentage number which must be higher than 40 percent,” said Urban. “The only school in this district eligible right now is Glendale Elementary with 49.6 percent. Bottom line is, the school district is not a candidate for this program.”
Morton explained his stance on free lunches.
“We have tax payers in this county who are willing to accept the burden of the costs associated with offering every student free lunch,” Morton said. “If we are willing to pay the difference, is there someway we could continue getting funded from the state?”
According to Urban, the state doesn’t offer a program that would continue reimbursing the district if they choose this route.
“It’s rare for a school district to be willing to take on the cost of free lunches with state reimbursement,” added Urban. “Only 75 percent of the kids in this district currently receiving the benefit of reduced lunches are actually eating. We need to figure out how to fix this before moving forward on a district wide free lunch program.”
Urban said he has been working closely with the school district’s food service director, Peggie Bundy.
“I’m going to help Mrs. Bundy with some aggressive letters that we can get sent to the households of students who are currently on the reduced lunch program,” said Urban. “We want to make sure these households are aware that their child is receiving the benefit of reduced lunch and aren't using it.”
Urban said the district’s participation numbers are “pretty darn good,” when compared across the state.
“In January, the district feed 1,860 kids reduced lunch and in February that number jumped to 2,147,” Urban said. “Other districts have been doing different things to get kids excited about lunch. The smoothie machine at Kossuth High School is a step in the right direction. It’s a requirement that students must get a lunch in order to get a smoothie.”
Urban shared another program with the board.
“Provision Two is a program I would not advise in this district, but it might help accomplish what Mr. Morton is wanting to do,” added Urban. “It is a four-year program where the district will have to accept applications for free or reduced lunch the first year. Those first year applications numbers will determine the amount of money the district receives for the next three years.”
Urban said Provision Two would cost the district money, but would allow the district to offer free lunch district wide and still be reimbursed from the state for a percentage of lunches provided.
“If the district's revenues are not greater than the expenses, the school district will have to pay the difference,” Urban added. “That could be more than $200,000.”
Former board president and district one representative Russ Nash requested preliminary figures be prepared and presented to the board that details the amount that the board might have to incur.
“It’s like we’re going into a dark corner with this,” said Nash. “I think we all would really like to know just how much money we may have to cover if we went with Provision Two.”
Urban agreed to compile a best case and worst case scenario for the district.
The information will be presented at the April 14 board meeting.