Last updated: April 21. 2014 4:09PM -
By - lstanford@civitasmedia.com

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Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, all students in the Thomaston-Upson School System will receive free breakfast and lunch. That decision came at the Board of Education meeting on April 8 when the BOE voted unanimously to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The CEP allows schools that serve a large percentage of low-income children to offer free school meals to all students.

School Nutrition Director Shelley Daniel explained the provision to the board. Eligible school systems are determined by their ‘identified students,’ which include children who are directly certified (through data matching) for free meals because they live in households that participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It also includes children who are qualified for free school meals without submitting a school meal application because of their status as being in foster care, enrolled in Head Start, homeless, runaway, or migrant. With the assistance of the Upson County Department of Family and Children, the system has identified all of the children in the district that would be free under these services.

“Any school or school system with 40 percent or more “identified students” can participate in CEP,” Daniel said. “What the state has is a state multiplier, which is 1.6. So we had to take our percentage of students that are identified students, and multiply it by the 1.6 state identifier. Under the Thomaston-Upson CEP, the identified students in the district are 51.5 percent of our kids, identified through government services. We multiply that times 1.6, and that equals the percent of reimbursement that we would receive. The way that looks like for us, if we choose to go this route for the next four years, is for 82.4 percent of our students, we would receive free reimbursement.

“Under the CEP, every child in the district receives breakfast, lunch, and after school snack, at no charge. The way that we receive funds under the no charge, is for 82.4 percent of our children eating a meal, we would receive free reimbursement. That leaves 17.6 percent that they would give us paid reimbursement for.”’

Daniel said in order for this provision to be financially beneficial for the school nutrition program, they will need to increase the number of students receiving breakfast and lunch, but feel that being able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students will aid in increasing participation.

Based on the current number of students participating in the free breakfast in each school, next year the increases in students eating breakfast will need to look like the following:

• For ULSE, from 943 students to 1,038, an increase of 95 students.

• For ULNE, from 362 to 415, an increase of 53 students.

• For ULMS, from 356 to 445, an increase of 89 students.

• For ULHS, from 388 to 485, an increase of 97 students.

Based on the current number of students participating in the free lunch in each school, next year the increases in students eating lunch will need to look like the following:

• For ULSE, from 1,137 to 1,194, an increase of 57 students.

• For ULNE, from 497 to 522, an increase of 25 students.

• For ULMS, from 945 to 992, an increase of 47 students.

• For ULHS, from 875 to 936, an increase of 61 students.

Board member Steve Sadler questioned what would happen if the school system did not meet the increases needed.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mike Gatlin stated that if the school system comes up short, then the money would need to be reimbursed from local funds. But, added Gatlin, he doesn’t believe that will happen.

“I think just the fact that every meal is going to be free is going to increase the number of kids getting the meals. I’d be shocked if we can’t increase the numbers that much,” Gatlin said. “But it is a wonderful program. We’ve got so many kids now that do go hungry because they fall in the gap between those who qualify for the free meals and those who can pay for them.”

Daniel said that if the school system doesn’t get the increases the administration believes they will get, they have the option of dropping the CEP provision after one year. But she added that she has talked to other school systems who got the provision last year and said they were all very positive about it. Daniel also stated she had someone else check her figures.

“I did have the state department look at our numbers,” Daniel said, “just to confirm that I wasn’t missing anything, and they did send an email in writing that they would recommend, based on our numbers, that we take this provision.”

Board member Angeline McGill made a motion to apply for the CEP. Board member Jacqueline Hollis seconded the motion and it was approved 7-0.

Daniel noted that regardless of whether the school system took the CEP or not, because of the federal reimbursement for breakfast and lunch, the school system is no longer allowed to charge staff less than what the federal government says it costs to feed the students.

“So staff prices must meet the federal reimbursement rate,” she said. “What that will look like is staff breakfast will now go from $1.50 to $2, and staff lunch will go from $2.50 to $3. All the school districts are having to go through this.”

McGill made a motion to increase staff prices for school meals to the recommended amounts. Board member Terrell Jackson second the motion, and it was approved 7-0.

Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.

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