The United States and New York state departments of education have approved six Jamestown schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students.
All students who attend Washington Middle, Ring Elementary, Bush Elementary, Love Elementary, Fletcher Elementary and Lincoln Elementary are now automatically eligible to participate in the program without submitting a Free Meal Application.
"We are thrilled that the Education Department has approved six Jamestown Schools as community eligible. This will obviously benefit our students because good nutrition is essential in preparing students to learn," said Walt Gaczewski, JPS Food Services Director.
Students wait in line for their lunch on Friday.
P-J photo by Nicholena Moon
In order to reap the benefits of this program, Food Services submitted an application to the United States Department of Agriculture. While six Jamestown schools were approved, the remaining three were not. Students attending Jefferson Middle, Persell Middle and Jamestown High schools will still need to submit a Free Meal Application in order to receive free or reduced meals.
The six schools deemed eligible for the program had a higher percentage of students already receiving free and reduced meals than the remaining schools. Ninety percent of Washington's students were participants of the program in 2011, along with 111.95 percent of Love's students, 78.61 percent of Fletcher's, 78.18 percent of Ring's, 83.1 percent of Bush's and 68.18 percent of Lincoln's. By contrast, only 65.92 percent of the high school's students were on the program, with Jefferson's total at 68.53 percent and Persell's total at 71.18 percent. The reason Lincoln is included in the program and not Jefferson or Persell is because Lincoln's total number of students is 399, whereas Jefferson's is 488 and Persell's is 517, making it easier to feed Lincoln's student body than those of the other two. Additionally, as the system is structured now, the district receives $2.79 in reimbursement money for each student lunch. If the remaining three schools were included, the number would drop to $2.22.
District officials want to include all its schools in the program, said Gaczewski, but would have to operate at a loss in order to do so.
"That's often the question people have: 'Why don't you include the other schools?'" he said. "Well, we have to run the school system kind of like a business. We always try to break even, and in that case we would lose money. We either do what we are doing now or we don't do it at all."
The program is sponsored by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which uses census data to determine student need in high-poverty areas rather than relying on paper applications for each student. Under the program, the federal government will reimburse 95 percent of Jamestown's breakfast and lunch costs. The remaining 5 percent are still fed under the program, however.
"We still feed them, we just don't get reimbursed for it," said Gaczewski.
However, only federal tax and state money, not county tax money, is used for the purpose of reimbursing school lunches.
"Many people don't realize that this is not funded by local tax money and only 3 percent of it is funded by state tax money," said Gaczewski.
If the remaining three schools were to be added, the reimbursement percentage would drop from 95 percent to only 75.4 percent, at which point the plan would cease to become equitable for the district. However, the numbers may change in the future.
"We will be looking at the remaining three schools each year to see if it would be equitable to add them," said Gaczewski.
The application holds for four years, and New York state is one of four states that the program is currently open to, but that number is also subject to change in the near future.
"In two years the whole country will be able to take advantage of this program," said Gaczewski.