LIMA – Come next school year, every pupil in the Lima schools will be eligible for free lunches.
The district will be one of a few in the state to be able to provide free meals through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Option.
Currently, 85.93 percent of pupils are on either free or reduced-price meals, and 79.8 percent are getting free lunches.
Food Service Director Carrie Woodruff said at Thursday’s school board meeting the move will help families still paying save money in a time when the district likely would increase lunch prices.
“We still have parents that struggle with even 40 cents,” Woodruff said.
In order for an entire district to eat free, 62.5 percent of pupils must be on public assistance and getting things like Medicaid and food stamps. Although Lima schools didn’t meet the cutoff earlier this school year, the district this month is at 62.67 percent.
Districts that don’t meet the guidelines still can apply, Woodruff said, but they need to find private donors or other outside funding to pay for all pupils.
The district first needs to submit its intention to apply and then has until June 30 to apply. The school board likely will give its formal approval in May.
The district is guaranteed to continue to qualify for four years, even if the percentage of pupils on public assistance drops below 62.5 percent. Superintendent Jill Ackerman said the district can opt out before each new school year begins if it desires.
“We are not under any obligation,” Ackerman said. She said the district has made sure being part of the program won’t negatively impact Title I or other funding.
“We did not want to jeopardize something else along the way,” Ackerman said.
Pupils getting free meals currently input numbers each time they go through a lunch line. Removing that process will give pupils more time to eat, Woodruff said.
High school students sometimes don’t want others to know they are getting free meals and therefore don’t take advantage of the current program, Ackerman added.
School board member Saul Allen Jr. said school meals are the only ones some children get.
All pupils get free breakfast, many through the Breakfast in the Classroom program, which began in 2003. Before then, breakfast was available in the cafeteria before the school day began. The program is supported through the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Mid West.
Lima school lunches