SCS to eliminate fees for reduced-lunch students in January

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

When it comes to school lunches, students are separated into three groups: free lunch, reduced lunch and full-pay. Students can eat meals for as little as nothing to as much as a basic high school meal for $2.50. Reduced meals cost 30¢ for breakfast and 40¢ for lunch, district-wide. It’s been this way for at least 20 years.

By law, there must still be a reduced-lunch designation and students would still be categorized by it, but schools are not required to charge students that fee. Salem Community Schools Food Services Director Karen Libka requested that charge be eliminated for students qualifying for reduced-cost lunches during the November board meeting on Monday and the board agreed.

“The cafeteria ECA account is in a good standing and I feel like we can handle that,” said Libka, who has been managing the food service budget well enough for it to be completely self-sufficient for many years, so this will not alter taxes or any other part of school funding. “I ran some numbers. Last year, with those fees, we took in $10,936.60. This school year, we have a few more students qualifying for free lunch — some of them moved from reduced to free — and in the first three months, we’ve taken in just under $2,000 in those fees. I feel like the program is in well-enough shape to help those parents who fall in that category.”

To qualify for reduced lunch, your income must be at 185% of the poverty level.

“Thirty and 40¢ may not sound like much, but when every penny has to stretch, it can be hard to come up with, especially if you have several students,” said Libka.

There are currently 108 students in the district qualifying for reduced lunch. If each of these students are present all 180 days of school and get breakfast and lunch each day, the cost would be $13,608 a year to eliminate these charges, though Libka doubts students who fall under the reduced-lunch designation will never miss a day of school or eat two meals a day at the school.

“We talked about it over the summer,” said Libka on Tuesday. “We looked at our budget and at the expenses we were expecting. We didn’t have a major project in the budget like last year, with the walk-in freezer. Replacing a part here and there won’t break the bank.”

She added that this year marks the fourth or fifth year that her department has been so financially self sufficient, she hasn’t had to increase lunch prices at the school.

“If I can get by with it, I don’t plan on raising lunch prices again next year,” she said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t plan on it.”

Still, there are students who have fallen behind on lunch payments. Libka said there are funds at all three schools for donations to these students, though donations must be brought through cash or check, not over the phone.

“Administrators, counselors, nutrition staff and even secretaries look out for kids who may need a donation made to their account,” said Libka.

The board thanked Libka for the work she put in to make this possible. The elimination of the reduced-lunch charges will begin in January.

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