District 304 Eyes Reduced-Price Lunch Program

Board members split on whether the plan would help boost poor students' academic performance or just add to taxpayers' burden.

The Board of Education is considering a controversial plan to offer reduced-price lunches to students whose families don’t quite meet the federal criteria to qualify for free lunches.

“Over the last three years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of applicants for free lunches,” said Assistant Superintendent Donna Oberg. “This year, we had 390 applicants, 314 of whom qualified for free lunches. If we had a reduced-price lunch program, about 50 of the remaining applicants would have qualified for it.”

Under guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, school-age children in a family of four with an income of $28,665 or less per year can get free school lunches. The income limit to qualify for reduced-price lunches is $40,793. The reduced price is set at 40 cents per lunch, and only the standard lunch can be offered at that price. Students receiving free or reduced-price lunches cannot select from the a la carte menus offered at Geneva High School and Geneva Middle Schools North and South, Oberg noted.

“This technically should have been done when we began offering free lunches,” said Superintendent Kent Mutchler. “The bottom line is that it will help kids get better nutrition so they’ll do better in school.”

It would cost the district between $5,000 and $8,000 per year to cover the cost of offering reduced-price lunches, Oberg said. The USDA subsidizes the free and reduced-price lunch program in school districts in which at least 8 percent of students participate, but District 304 would have only 6 percent participation even after adding the reduced-price lunch program.

Some board members said the district has no business making taxpayers subsidize more students’ lunches when school financing is so tight.

“I’m really struggling with this. This is public aid we’re forcing everyone to pay for,” said board member Matt Henry. “I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but that $5,000 to $8,000 has got to come from somewhere, and something’s got to give. When I started my own business and we had no money coming in, we went to Aldi and packed our own lunches.”

“We have some parents who are not as responsible as you are, but we don’t want their kids’ academic performance to suffer because of it,” countered board member Kelly Nowak. “This is something we should seriously consider.”

The board tabled the proposal for discussion at a future meeting.



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