Sylacauga City Schools soon offering free student meals
SYLACAUGA, Ala. (WBRC) - Starting September 1, every student in Sylacauga City Schools will receive breakfast and lunch at no charge. The school system is partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use its Provision 2 program.
Kelley Wasserman, Director of Sylacauga’s Child Nutrition program noticed during the first few weeks of school students were already accumulating negative balances on their school lunch accounts.
“I knew this was going to be an ongoing battle,” said Wasserman,” So, when we did the cost analysis to see if we could qualify for provision 2 and if we could afford to sustain it, the state department helped me with those calculations, and we determined that yes, we could make this happen.”
Wassermann pointed out that Sylacauga’s free and reduced percentage is nearly 70%, a significant increase from that pre-pandemic. During the last two school years, all students across the country ate school meals at no charge because of USDA waivers, which expired June 30 of this year.
With each student getting two free meals, it would save families about $800 per child.
“A paid lunch is $2.44,” adds Wasserman. “That’s $441 that it would cost that child to eat school lunch every day. The big thing to consider is many of our families have more than one child in school. It adds up quickly. You’re easily talking a thousand dollars to cover school lunch.”
Sylacauga has maintained meal charges of $1.50 for breakfast and $2.45 for lunch for the last five years. Wassermann said that earlier in the summer when she was calculating the prices for student meals, she recommended to the school board to leave prices where they were.
“Families were paying so much more for basic necessities, like gas and groceries,” she explained. “I was concerned that if we raised prices, we would lose participation and defeat the purpose of trying to serve nutritional meals.”
Wassermann went on to clarify that the school district is only piloting the Provision 2 program.
“After the first semester, a financial analysis will be conducted to determine whether we can afford to continue in Provision 2. The Child Nutrition Program must absorb the unpaid cost of reduced and paid students not being charged for their portion of the meals. We can continue the program only for as long as our fund balance is strong enough to carry this extra cost.”
Students will be required to pay for breakfast and lunch until Sept. 1.
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