When school starts in September, everyone at Sharon Springs Central School will be eating for free.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that’s because of an increase in students eligible for free and reduced meals; in effect, the district has gotten poorer.
“It’s a telling tale of the economic backdrop in Sharon Springs,” said Superintendent Pat Green.
“This is a way to help people. It’s out responsibility to take advantage of it.”
The free meals—both breakfast and lunch for all students—are being paid for with a five-year federal Community Eligibility Provision grant, renewable yearly.
There is a small, local share, said Business Administrator Tony DiPace, but he’s confident increased participation in the breakfast and lunch program will cover it.
If he’s wrong, it will cost the district $125 a year for the 10 months school is in session.
Mr. Green explained that students will still go through the lunch line and will still enter their ID numbers at the register so the cafeteria can track the number of meals served—a CEP requirement.
Though in the 2018-2019 school year, families will need to fill out paperwork—again, part of the CEP requirements—this year there are no forms.
“Students just need to report to the cafeteria,” Mr. Green said, “whether they qualify for free and reduced meals or not.”
Extra servings, snacks, and treats like ice cream aren’t covered under the program; students will need to pay for them using cash or their meal accounts.
Mr. DiPace said Canajoharie Central School has also qualified for the free breakfast and lunch program under the federal income guidelines.
In SSCS’s case, he said, the district went from having 64 percent of its students income-eligible to 67 percent in the middle of the past year and that three percent difference allowed the CLEP grant to kick in.
“Still, it’s not automatic,” said Mr. Green. “Tony and Missy Simpson, our cafeteria manager, did a tremendous amount of work on this and now, they’ll have to continue tracking our numbers.
“And while it’s not a great place to be in, we feel it’s a great thing for all of our kids.”
The CEP is a key piece of the 2010 federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.