Faced with watching over an annual budget of about $120 million, the Finance Committee of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board spent 53 minutes this week agonizing over an issue that last year cost the board an extra $3,848.60.
The money was spent providing complimentary lunches to students whose meal accounts were in deficit, according to Kate Mason-Schultz, the district’s nutrition services coordinator.
Under federal guidelines, implemented during the Great Society years of the Lyndon Johnson administration, lunches for families most in need are subsidized in full or in part by the federal government.
In District 65, some 2,981 students last year qualified for free lunches, while an additional 289 students were partially subsidized. That left 4,868 students designated as “full-paying students,” according to Ms. Mason-Schultz.
Under a District 65 procedure that has been in place for 18 years, a student whose meal account is in the red, is allowed two meal credits, after which the student is offered a complimentary sandwich, fruit, vegetable, and milk, in place of the regular menu. The cost to the district, she said, is 70 cents per lunch.
If the account balance continues to go unpaid and the student continues to return to the cafeteria with no money or packed lunch, school personnel will attempt to contact the child’s parent or guardian.
District Superintendent Paul Goren told the committee that “it is important for students to have a healthy meal” and not to return to class hungry.
One of the problems that the district is particularly sensitive to is the “shaming” that occurs when other students see that one of their friends is getting the complimentary meal. The nutrition staff has brainstormed over ways to minimize that from happening, according to Ms. Mason-Schultz.
Committee member Anya Tanyavutti recalled that, as a child, her family was not always able to cover its lunch fees and that “it was embarrassing.”
Because the dollar amount of losses to the district is so small, board member Joseph Hailpern suggested that families should perhaps be offered a “clean slate” at the beginning of each year so that their luncheon accounts do not escalate from year to year.
While the committee had no solutions to offer, it recommended that communication between the district and the parents be standardized and that students be “removed from the process,” according to committee chair Candance Chow.