District steps up to keep breakfast free for students

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PRIEST RIVER — Despite the outcome of a recent food service audit at Priest River Lamanna High School, breakfast will remain free to students for the time being as district officials agreed to foot the bill.

“Basically what they said when they looked at our demographics, currently, is that 60 percent of the kids who are taking the breakfast right now could pay for the breakfast,” said Jennifer Anselmo, business manager and board clerk for West Bonner County School District.

The audit was done a couple of months ago, she said, and the state determined that the school was not eligible for free breakfast under Provision 2 of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. The demographics were based on free and reduced lunch forms — or the lack there of — at the high school, said WBCSD Superintendent Paul Anselmo. If the school doesn’t get those forms back, it can impact the Provision 2 status of the district, he said.

In the first year of Provision 2, known as the base year, schools collect the household applications and track meals served by fee categories — free, reduced and paid — as they would under the traditional program. Reimbursements for the base year are provided based on the number of meals served in each fee category, according to the USDA.

Jennifer Anselmo said after sitting down with the district’s food service director, the cost of breakfast for each student is approximately $1.50, or $0.30 reduced. The district currently pays about $18,000 a year for breakfast at the high school, she said, estimating an additional cost of $6,000 for WBCSD to pay for the students’ meals.

PRLHS Principal Joe Kren said the number of students eating breakfast at school has dropped by about half — to just over 50 students a day — since they can no longer serve meals in the classrooms. Many of the students head straight to class upon arrival rather than going out of their way to the lunch room, he said. The numbers picked up a bit, he said, after the school set up an alternative serving station in the quad by the library. Kren said if the board did impose a fee, the number of students eating breakfast would likely drop even more.

“Having a warm meal ready for them is something that’s very important for so many of our students,” Kren said.

Jennifer Anselmo said the district gets a minimum of $0.30 for each student who eats breakfast at the school, so it could cost the district in the long run to charge the students if those numbers did drop.

“So all of a sudden, if you have just a fraction of the kids taking breakfast, you are taking a hit and that’s not something I could calculate out,” she said.

Board members unanimously approved a motion to waive the charge for students and have the district pay for the shortfall out of the general fund for the remainder of the school year. Next year, Jennifer Anselmo said, the district will start over in the base year, with hopes that all will go well and the meals will again be offered free under Provision 2.

“Madame chairman, I can not thank you and the members of board enough for that action,” Kren said. “... Thank you for what you have done for our students — and they will know about it.”

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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