Free, reduced meals given to 61 percent of county's students

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Exeter has highest percentage at 72.5, Cassville has lowest at 56

According to figures released by Barry County schools, 61 percent of the county's 6,444 students in grades K-12 receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Richard Asbill, superintendent of the Cassville School District, said the economy plays a big role in the amount of children who receive free or reduced-price meals, and the figures seen today are likely a result of the economic downturn in recent years.

"If you look at the area and its socioeconomic capacity, in 2008, the recession trickled down, and we ended up having a two- to three-year gap where people were employed or both parents were working, and they did not qualify," he said. "Now, we're seeing a trickle down where a lot of kids who were on paid lunch are now on reduced, and a lot of kids on reduced are now on free."

Schools are reimbursed for the free and reduced-price meals, depending on if the district's free and reduced percentage is above or below 60 percent. For districts below 60 percent, the reimbursement rates are $2.98 for a free lunch, $2.58 for a reduced-price lunch, and 28 cents for a paid lunch. For districts above 60 percent, the reimbursement rates are $3 for a free lunch, $2.64 for a reduced-price lunch, and 36 cents for a paid lunch.

Asbill said although sometimes reimbursement rates may be higher than the charge to a student for a meal, the district has stayed mostly neutral in the food service budget due to the cost of providing the meals, including labor.

"Last year, we were about $5,000 in the black, and that stays in food service," he said. "But, we had more kids eating last year in all grade levels, so what's happening is the cost of meals is consistent, but the level of participation is not. More participation means more reimbursements to subsidize the food service program."

Asbill said this year, the outlook is not positive, as new food guidelines have slowed participation, coupled with the cost of food going up.

"We have not been above all year, so we're tracking to be in the red anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000," he said. "The reimbursement rate has led to mostly balanced budgets in the past, but food costs are so high related to the nutritional guidelines that we are trending behind this year."

Another trend with free and reduced-price meals is more students take advantage of the program in elementary years compared to high school years.

Jill LeCompte, assistant superintendent at Cassville, said there's multiple reasons the numbers drop off over time.

"It's always been higher in the elementary school because a lot of kids in high school don't feel the need to fill out the form because they're more independent," she said. "Or, they bring their own lunch, pay as they go when they want to eat, or just don't eat at school."

At Cassville Schools, 56 percent of the 1,933 students receive free or reduced-price lunches. At the primary school, 291 of the 531 students receive free lunch (55 percent), and 37 students receive reduced-price lunch (7 percent). At the intermediate school, 198 of the 386 students receive free lunch (51 percent), and 34 students receive reduced-price lunch (9 percent). At the middle school, 198 of the 421 students receive free lunch (47 percent), and 37 students receive reduced-price lunch (9 percent). At the high school, 235 of the 595 students receive free lunch (39 percent), and 49 students receive reduced-price lunch (8 percent).

At Exeter Schools, 72.5 percent of the 324 students receive assistance in paying for meals. Exeter Elementary School has an enrollment of 215 students, with 133 receiving free lunch (62 percent) and 33 students receiving reduced-price lunch (15 percent). At Exeter High School, 57 of the 109 students receive free lunch (52 percent), and 12 students receive reduced-price lunch (11 percent).

At the Southwest School District, 69 percent of students receive assistance, which accounts for 559 of its 805 students. There are 437 students who get free lunch (54 percent), and there are 122 students receiving reduced-price lunch (15 percent).

At Wheaton Schools, 67 percent of the 379 students receive free or reduced lunch. At the elementary school, 101 students receive free lunch (65.5 percent), and six students receive reduced-price lunch (3 percent). At Wheaton High School, 101 students receive free lunch (59 percent), and 10 students receive reduced-price lunch (6 percent).

At the Purdy School District, 63.5 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch. At the elementary school, 185 of the 281 students receive free lunch (65 percent), and 22 students receive reduced-price lunch (8 percent). At the High School, 97 students receive free lunch (46 percent), and 11 students receive reduced-price lunch (5 percent).

At Monett Schools, 59.5 percent of the 2,317 students enrolled receive assistance. At Central Park Elementary School, 203 students receive free lunch (58 percent), and 41 students get reduced-price lunch (12 percent). At Monett Elementary School, 307 students eat free lunch (58 percent), and 49 students get reduced-price lunch (9 percent). At the intermediate school, 179 students eat free (53 percent), and 35 students get reduced-price lunch (10 percent). At Monett Middle School, 192 students get free lunch (50 percent), and 36 students get reduced-price lunch (9 percent). Finally, at Monett High School, 264 students eat free lunch (37 percent), and 73 students get reduced-price lunch (10 percent).

Shell Knob Elementary School, which has an enrollment of 147 students, is in its first year of the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program ensuring all students at the school eat for free. The provision provides the option for free meals for all students without collecting household applications.

To qualify, the school must have 40 percent of its students be primarily directly-certified students, which means the state has pre-qualified them for free lunch. That number is then multiplied by a factor of 1.6 to determine a free claiming percentage. The remainder of students still eat free, but the school pays for them.

At Shell Knob Elementary, the school is reimbursed for about 86 percent of the students, and it has to pay for about 14 percent. In September, the school was reimbursed $10,195.71 for breakfast, lunch and snacks.

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