Webster Parish does not qualify for a federal program that would allow all its students to eat lunch for free.
Child Nutrition Supervisor Sylvia Dupree explained the program and why the parish as a whole does not qualify; however, there are several schools within the parish that do meet the qualifications.
“What you’ve been hearing in the news about the free lunch program is called the Community Eligibility Provision,” she said. “In order to qualify, you must have a minimum percentage of identified students.”
Eligibility requirements dictate that a school or group of schools must have at least 40 percent of the identified student percentage, and if they qualify and choose to participate in the CEP program, then the school or group of schools must serve free lunch and breakfast to all students. Meal applications would not be collected at these schools, she said.
They have three options: all schools in the parish, a group of schools or an individual school.
Six schools in Webster Parish qualify for the program: Browning Elementary School, J.E. Harper Elementary School, Brown Upper Elementary School, J.L. Jones Elementary School, J.A. Phillips Middle School and E.S. Richardson Elementary School.
Other schools that are close to qualifying include Central Elementary, North Webster Elementary, Doyline High School, Minden High School, North Webster Junior High School, North Webster Lower Elementary School, Springhill Jr./Sr. High School and Webster Junior High School.
Lakeside Jr./Sr. High School does not qualify.
CEP was implemented in 2014 to provide access to free school meals in high poverty areas and eliminate the burden of administrations having to collect and process household applications.
Students who live in a household receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are automatically eligible to receive free lunch, she said.
The board would be reimbursed with federal money for the number of free lunch students, she said. Those left over would be reimbursed at the paid federal rate, she added.
Finance Director Crevonne Odom says part of the reason the school system never considered the program is because it will affect their Title I and e-rate funding, which are both based on the poverty level in the parish.
“The reason I think there was a big taboo about it when it first started was because they did not understand how it was going to affect their Title I and their e-rate,” she said, adding that participating in the program locks in their rates for Title I and e-rate for about three or four years.
In the past several years, the number of students falling under Title I services have increased each year, and the fear was schools wouldn’t get enough money to cover the increase in students, Odom said.
Another issue they run into is if a family has two children at two separate schools, one free lunch and the other a paying school.
District 11 Board Member Jerry Lott says the advantage of the program is the savings to the parents.
“If I was a parent in one of these six schools and qualified for a free lunch, and I was paying for 180 lunches, and we’re paying for other students to eat in this program, and I didn’t get to participate, I’d want to know what the problem is,” he said. “We’re missing an opportunity for our families to save money on school lunches.”
District 6 Board Member John Madden says if the six schools that qualify could participate, that could be a savings of roughly $1.2 million to the parents for one school year.
The item was tabled until April 3, when the board could get more data for the coming year, and then decide on whether to participate. The school system must notify the state by June 30 whether they will participate in the following school year.
In other news, the school board:
- Approved John Gibbs Roof System to reroof the main building at North Webster Jr. High School for $147,712 using the Sarepta Maintenance Fund.
- Approved ArCom Systems Inc., to replace fire wiring in alarm system at Phillips for $1,860 using District 6 half-cent sales tax.
- Approved Moro Electric LLC to replace electrical work in the shop/agricultural building at Lakeside Jr./Sr. High School for $13,765 using Consolidated 3 Maintenance Fund.
The next meeting of the school board will be at 6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3, in the board meeting room at Central Office, located at 1442 Sheppard St.