Paying for school meals on the Monday school board agenda

Posted at 12:07 a.m. on Sunday, August 21, 2022

SALISBURY — A national issue landed on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education agenda for discussion on Monday.

The board is seeking an update on school meals after federal waivers that allow every school district nationwide to provide universal free meals expired in June. The waiver originated in March 2020 when schools across the country closed, including all public schools in North Carolina via an order from Governor Roy Cooper.

The waiver was extended for the 2020-21 school year and later through 2021-22, but no extension came after classes ended for the summer this year, so many students started again to pay for meals.

Ten schools still receive universal free meals through special community waivers, and many students receive free or reduced lunch at other schools. Reduced lunch prices are also free this year, as the state has set aside money to pay the difference for these students.

RSS Nutrition director Lisa Altmann said free and discounted apps are pouring in now that paid meals are back in schools.

How do free and reduced meals work?

Families must complete an application for a free or reduced lunch. There are automatic qualifiers like receiving food stamps or Medicaid assistance.

The state has also set aside funds to cover the difference between free and reduced lunch, so fewer families have to pay.

The nutrition department is organized as a business in its own right and is directly reimbursed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

For everyone else, including those who are eligible for support but have not yet applied, they must pay.

The district has a policy that students without free or reduced lunch can charge for three meals, which turns into a meal debt that the nutrition department tries to collect, though Altmann said that’s often not possible.

The district will not deny a student a meal, even after those three meals have been charged for and the school considers it an “alternate meal” for which the district does not get a refund. Altmann said that ultimately the district had to cover uncollected debts and alternative meal costs.

The district has incurred more than $4,500 in student debt since classes began Aug. 10.

Each school maintains an account so the public can help pay for student meal debt. These started before the COVID-19 pandemic but went unused when meals were free.

The meeting will begin at 4:30 p.m. on the Wallace Education Forum and can be viewed online at vimeo.com/rssboe.

Other items on the agenda:

• Council will consider a transfer resolution as part of the closing process of the sale of the former Enochville Elementary School to the Piedmont Baptist Church. The amount of the sale is $600,000.

• The Board will consider changing its November and December meetings to single dates of November 14 and December 12.

• Council will consider hiring a new local attorney for bond forfeiture matters, currently handled by the town attorney. The current district attorney for bond forfeiture matters is Chris Sease, who will not be able to continue in this role as he is set to become a district court judge.

Board counsel, Raleigh Tharrington Smith, will recommend the hiring of Ryan Stowe of Stowe Law Firm in Salisbury.

Part of this story was included in Friday’s electronic edition of the Salisbury Post.