All Columbus elementary school students will receive free breakfasts and lunches beginning this upcoming school year under a program approved by the school board in a special meeting Monday.
The school board discussed the Community Eligibility Provision of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 at its June meeting, but delayed joining the program to give school officials more time for research.
At Monday’s meeting, Roundy Elementary Secretary Brenda Wilson provided an update. She said the elementary building qualified for the program because at least 40 percent of the students there had been certified for free lunches under homeless, migrant or free/reduced criteria.
Wilson and Roundy Head Coach Janice Pugh said the district’s junior and senior high school buildings were about 17 percent short of qualifying for the program. Other school officials said the shortage translated into a monthly meal cost of about $3,000, which Wilson and Pugh said could be covered by money from a source other than the school’s general fund.
“I’d like both (the elementary and secondary buildings) to get (CEP), but we’d need to find (funding),” Pugh said, explaining it probably would take around $35,000 in annual grants or other donations to get that cost covered.
“We could start with Roundy and then look at getting donations,” board member Wayne Finke suggested.
Board member Joy Lekwa was not sure she was correctly understanding the program.
“Are we missing something? This seems too good to be true,” she said.
Wilson and Pugh assured her they had talked to administrators of the program and what they reported was accurate. They said two major intents of the program were to reduce administrative procedures and improve access to free school meals.
Administrative procedures would be reduced because household applications for free and reduced meals would be eliminated, the two said.
New elementary Principal Paul Southwell said he had come from a district where the CEP program had been implemented and he assured board members student meal participation rates would climb.
“It’s great for attendance,” he said.
Once implemented, the CEP program is guaranteed for a period of four years before the district needs to re-certify.
In other action, on a 3-2 vote, the school board agreed to accept a teacher’s resignation and rescind an administrative decision to assess the teacher $1,000 for the cost of finding a suitable replacement for her position.
Superintendent Gary Benda cited a board policy in assessing the cost against Kari Zuniga, who submitted her resignation after this year’s July 5 contract renewal deadline.
Dan Zuniga appeared at the meeting on behalf of his wife, who was attending a class, and pointed out the assessment clause of the board policy cited only advertising costs up to $1,000.
Benda acknowledged the advertising costs had likely not been that high, but that he and other administrators had spent several days making arrangement to hire replacement teacher Abby Threlkeld.
Lekwa, who together with board members Dave Duncan and board president Sandy Martin voted to rescind the action and accept Zuniga’s resignation, said the policy only cited advertising.
“I don’t think the wording matches,” she said.
Board members Eric Totemeier and Finke voted against the motion.