WGSD Opts Out of USDA Lunch Program

WGSD District Administrator Chris Joch

The (former) district administrator sat down with WTMJ to answer questions about the Board’s decision to opt out of the federal lunch program. The federal lunch program offers a cash reimbursement to districts that agree to strict nutritional guidelines. For this current school year Dan Jensen stated that WGSD will receive $37,000 from the federal government for free and reduced lunch. Chris Joch, District Administrator, mentioned he thought it was $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

You can view the WTMJ news story at the following link

The primary reason cited for opting out of the program has been described as a 2-3% decline in school lunch participants over the last several years. Ironically, the school District has experienced a 2-3% decline in enrollment over this same period of time. It is unknown if this fact was considered when the calculation was derived.

When fewer students participate in the school lunch program the cost per student increases. Another concern is that students who currently purchase the school lunch don’t enjoy the food and end up throwing much of it in the garbage. Some then eat more desirable food when they get home that is provided by their parents (such as vegetables or cookies). Additional guidelines next year are expected to make the food taste even less desirable for some students.

The Free and Reduced lunch program is also the best way to collect data on low income students that qualifies for Title funding (see video 1 at 1:28). As a result, Mr. Joch explains that WGSD would still want to offer a Free and Reduced lunch program, but would lose the $37,000 it receives annually by meeting the federal nutrition guidelines (see video 1 at 3:10).

The Board was split on the need to offer a free and reduced program to low income students in the district. Dan Jensen stated he did not feel it was the district’s responsibility to pay for anyone else’s lunch (video 1 at 4:34). Jensen then went on to describe that WGSD could in the future determine the family income levels that qualify a student for free and reduced lunch and what they would be given to eat if they did.

dan-jensen-lunch-lineBoard member Dawn Bleimehl stated that she hoped that any free and reduced lunch offered by the WGSD “looks the same” as the lunch served to other students (video #2 at 3:57). Dan Jensen went on to disagree that a free or reduced lunch need to look the same and that he, as a youngster in Racine Unified School District, was not bothered by standing in a special line while waiting to receive his free or reduced lunch. He agreed it would matter to some students in WGSD, but felt that was the price those students have to pay for receiving a lunch paid for by others (video #2 at 4:40). Unfortunately, the district would then stand to lose many tens of thousands of dollars in Title funds because it would be much less likely to identify and document students from low income households.

Ultimately, the board voted to opt out of the federal lunch program and limit their exposure to $20,000 of additional cost to WGSD tax payers. Although the District will lose a minimum of $37,000 in federal funds it believes it may be able to reduce the annual costs by at least $17,000 ($37,000-$17,000 = $20,000) due to not having to meet the nutritional guidelines imposed by the federal program (video #3 at 6:30). For example, the bread required to be purchased under the federal guidelines is sold by fewer vendors and the price is less competitive.

At the time the Board approved opting out of the federal program they did not address what the guidelines would be for its own free and reduced lunch program (family income levels and lunch options) or how it would deal with the potential loss in Title funds if it were not able to identify students from low income households who were too uncomfortable having to eat a lunch that was different from all other students.

At future meetings the board will view bids by three different lunch program providers and discuss remaining details.

You can watch the coverage from WTMJ4 and the recent school board committee and board meetings here at WGSDMeetings.com (scroll down).

Video 1 of 3 (see more below)

Video 2 of 3 (see more below)

Video 3 of 3

You can view the WTMJ news story at the following link

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