RACINE — A goal of the Southern Local Board of Education and Southern Superintendent Tony Deem came to fruition with the official stamp approval last Wednesday.
“Free Lunches for all students Pre-K to 8” for the next four years became reality with Southern qualifying for the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP.
Community Eligibility is a provision that helps schools and districts in high poverty communities meet eligibility to serve no-cost lunches and breakfasts to all their students. Interested schools and districts must apply for Community Eligibility through the Ohio Department of Education, Office for Child Nutrition.
“What this means is that all students in Southern Elementary will receive free lunches regardless of their economic status,” Deem said. “What it also means is that no elementary parents will have to fill out the free and reduced lunch forms through the eighth grade. All Southern High School students will receive lunch and make payments as they have done in the past. The grant is for the elementary only.”
Southern High School students will fill out lunch forms as they have in the past to receive a free lunch, a reduced lunch rate, or with non-qualifying families paying the full lunch price.
“The CEP does not include the high school because the high school numbers of direct certification did not meet the grant requirements,” Deem said. “This will be a question many of our high school parents will ask and that is the reason. ‘Free for all’ does not extend to the high school. We would certainly do it if we had the numbers.”
“We hope that more kids will take advantage of this unique situation,” said Scott Wolfe, newly hired food service director. “The more kids that eat, the more the district is reimbursed. We hope this frees up some money for families and students, and additionally, we hope that students will take advantage of purchasing ‘a la carte’ items.”
With Deem’s input, Wolfe and outgoing food service director and EMIS coordinator Tim Thoren crunched the numbers and found that going with the CEP would be viable for Southern Local and also found that Southern Elementary did indeed qualify.
A la carte items such as an extra sandwich, a salad, fruit, or nutritious snacks will still be available, but will have to be purchased. Only the lunch, which includes free milk, will be free.
School eligibility is based on the number of students who meet the “identified” definition:
- Certified free using methods other than a paper Free and Reduced Meal application. These include students who are:
- Directly certified for free meals on the basis of their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Ohio Works First (OWF) and the extension of benefits to students within the same household. Homeless, Runaway, Migrant, Head Start, or Foster children with court papers.
Although that criteria is the qualifying guide to receive CEP funding, “every child eats free” regardless of income.
Many schools qualify for CEP, but the decision to go with CEP generally lies with whether or not the district will lose money, break even or make a minimal trend toward being in the black. For Southern, it was the latter.
“We are locked in for the next four years. Our numbers can increase, thus our percentage of reimbursement could increase, but it can’t be reduced,” Wolfe said. “With the 1.6 multiplying factor we will be locked in at 71.28 percent reimbursement. Based on last year’s numbers for a typical month, the district would see an increase of around $1,600 a month per month in the food service program.
“We hope that more kids will eat lunch,” Wolfe added. “The more who eat, the more the program is beneficial to the district. More importantly, we know that healthy kids and kids that are not hungry learn better. We urge all kids to eat every day and we encourage all parents to persuade their children to eat a healthy school lunch and a school breakfast.”
What the 71.28 percent means is that Southern will receive reimbursement for 71.28 percent of its meals at $2.95 per meal, and the remaining percentage — or 28.72 percent at 30 cents per meal. The district will still qualify for other nutritional programs as well.
Deem said he has explored CEP closely over the past few months, and with the information he gathered found provisions not previously explored to meet the CEP criteria.
“We really wanted to get this for our families,” Deem said. “We think this offers our clients, families and students we serve a great opportunity.
“I gave Mr. Wolfe the information and had him and Mr. Thoren go to work. Working closely with the ODE consultants, they found that Southern did qualify. Not only did we qualify, but the worksheet that ODE provides lit up green. Many schools qualify but go in the red, so CEP is not for them. It works for us at the elementary and that was a great thing.”
High school lunch prices at Southern were recently posted at $2.45 and teacher/adult lunches set at $3.25. A la carte items vary per item.