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Free school meal program successful
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Warren County School System’s free breakfast and lunch program is a nutritious benefit to students and could be a monetary one to employees working toward making the program financially feasible.
All students in Warren County schools have been receiving free breakfast and lunch since April 1, regardless of economic status. The program is called Community Eligibility Provision. This provision provides all Warren County students with two healthy meals at no charge.
According to an update by Director of Schools Bobby Cox to School Board members on Thursday, the nutrition program is doing well. More students are participating and financial reimbursement from the state has gone up and expenditures are going down.
“From this time last year to current, we are serving about 12 percent more students,” said Cox. “This year we are serving over 70 percent. Average daily attendance is about 74.7 percent. Last year, it was 62.1 percent. We are serving more students, ongoing, this year than we were last year.”
Due to the increase in student participation, reimbursements from the state have gone up.
“Our total reimbursement we get from the program is up $45,000 this year because of the increased participation,” said Cox. “We are gaining more money into the program to keep it solvent.”
Cox says staff has been able to reduce expenditures, despite the increase in the number of students being served.
“Our expenditures are down $82,000,” he said. “Long story short, we have students eating. Our cost is less and we’re able to feed more students on a daily basis for breakfast and lunch.”
School Board member Bill Zechman expressed gratitude for the way the program is being handled.
“It’s great participation is up,” Zechman said. “That gets us in a more secure position in staying in the Community Eligibility Provision, which I think is one of the best things this school system has done in terms of taking care of the physical needs of our students and also helping families. Reimbursement is up and costs are down and I think we all commend Dr. Sandy Dawes and her staff. I guess the question that kind of pops out from that very positive report is does that create any opportunity for maybe looking at salary and wage improvements for our food service people?”
Consideration can be given to that, says Cox, but he reminded the School Board all employees received a 4 percent salary increase last year.
“I’ve said many times, and no one’s ever contradicted me on this, the people in our school system who serve our students are dedicated, motivated, highly qualified people and they all work hard but nobody works harder than student nutrition staff,” said Zechman. “If you’ve seen them at work, you know what I mean.”
Cox says the school’s nutrition program has its own budget and all that goes into one consolidated budget but he’s not opposed to rewarding employees who deserve it.
“We can definitely take a look at that,” he said. “We want to continue to reward our employees. I think over the last two years we’ve given them about a 5.5 percent increase largely due to our financial standing. We were able to give the full 4 percent this year, which I think the board was committed to. Everyone I’ve talked to has been very appreciative of that.”