While children across the country have participated in free-and-reduced price lunch programs for years, many public school districts are realizing that providing one meal a day for students is no longer enough.
With 47 percent of students in Komarek School District 94 now qualifying for free-or-reduced lunch, the school board is actively looking to implement a free-and-reduced breakfast program within the next few years.
According to the Food and Research Access Center, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit organizations working to improve nutrition and public policies, schools can serve free breakfast and lunch when 40 percent or more of students qualify for free meals based on household income, foster care, SNAP food assistance and other factors.
Komarek Superintendent Neil Pellicci says the percentage of students who qualify for the program has gradually increased over the past few years and that the percentage topping 40 percent was no surprise to the school board.
“I would say last year we were probably at around 38 percent, but because they changed the criteria, that caused us to have this enormous jump,” Pellicci said. “We probably would have been right at 40 or 41 percent if they hadn’t changed the criteria.”
Even though Komarek qualifies to provide free breakfast, the district is looking to receive a government waiver to hold off on providing the service for one more school year in order to help the district solidify a plan of action. Without the waiver, Komarek will legally need to provide breakfast for the 2015-16 school year.
Pellicci, who is retiring in June after 28 years in the district, hopes Komarek will be granted the waiver, since he believes it would be too hectic to get the breakfast program properly implemented by August.
“It would give [the board] a chance to look at the vendor, who would give them a chance to make sure they have all the equipment in place and they would have the participation,” Pellicci said.
Since the district does not provide busses for students, one issue Pellicci foresees with the breakfast program is that parents will ultimately be responsible for getting to school earlier to eat breakfast at the school.
“Without bussing, you really run into the problem of having not enough children really to support the program,” Pellicci said. “[For breakfast], they’re going to have to be dropped off by their parents in order to participate, so that’s going to really affect whether we have a good number of children participate or not.
“What [the board] would do next year is probably have some parent meetings and see what kind of interest is generated if we did have a breakfast program.”
Aside from the issue of how many students would actually take advantage of the program, Pellicci also says the district needs to consider the additional costs of providing morning supervision for the students, serving staff, custodial workers and breakfast foods and supplies.
Komarek’s is just finishing up the first year of its contract with its food service vendor, Quest Food Management Services, with regular meal rates at $3.50 and reduced lunch rates at 20 cents.
Pellicci says he does not know for sure what projected costs for the breakfast program would be, but says Komarek would be eligible for a federal subsidy to offset costs for the district.
“I don’t have a total grasp on whether it’s going to be a wash for the district or whether we’re going to break out even in the end,” he said. “We have to work with our vendor to see what the actual cost of the breakfast would be minus what the federal government would be giving us in reimbursement.”
Parents are encouraged to attend Komarek school board meetings to offer suggestions and comments or contact the school board and superintendent at email@example.com.
“If they have an opinion, one way or another, we can gladly hear it,” Pellicci said.