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U-46 to seek exemption to state meal mandate

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 will be seeking an exemption to an unfunded mandate from the state as the Board of Education heard the proposed waiver to breakfast after the bell at its meeting on Monday, April 10. A vote is expected at the April 24 meeting.
  According to the resolution, the district “is required to offer breakfast to all students in those schools where at least 70 [percent] of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches after the start of the school day.” There are 19 elementary schools in the district that meet that requirement.
  Jeff King, chief operations officer, said the mandate was issued “several months ago” and would go into effect in the upcoming 2017-18 school year if U-46 does not receive an exemption. He said if the district were to offer breakfast after the bell it could cost the districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  “We would like to opt out of this program,” King said. “This would not have any impact on our current breakfast program before the bell. We will still do that at all of our school locations. This is only about breakfast after the bell.”
  King said there are two ways a district can opt out, one being “if already 70 percent or more of the students at these locations were eating breakfast, we could opt out of the mandate. Currently, we are around 22 percent eating breakfast.”
  The other way is “to show financially its not viable,” said King, which is what the district will use if authorized by the board to seek the exemption.
  On food and labor costs, King estimated that breakfast after the bell would equate to a $297,444 loss, but the loss in instructional time is more than double.
  Previously, the district piloted a similar breakfast program that offered meals after the school day started which King said “our best estimate… is we lose about 10 minutes of instruction time per classroom” equating to a $680,000 loss every year.
  King said at the secondary level the district does offer “carts and grab and go for the high school students,” but “it becomes more problematic at the elementary level. It’s much harder to deliver the program, and the cleanup afterwards.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said when the pilot program was in place it came with “mixed” results with a loss of instruction time, trash building up in classrooms and “it didn’t have any overall or everlasting impact on the achievement of the students in the classrooms.”
  “One of the areas where the state currently owes us significant amounts of money is in our breakfast program,” Sanders said. “Ironically they’re asking us to take on this additional program at a time that the state of Illinois cannot afford to reimburse us for this program.”
  The district does currently offer breakfast to students with parents who place the responsibility of feeding their children on the taxpayers before the start of the school day, and King said the district loses $245,144 on that. The district still plans to offer that.
  “I guess what I’m struggling with then… we can gain back the 10 minutes of instructional time but if you have a hungry kid sitting in the room we could have a loss of more than…. We gain the 10 minutes, but we lose the child,” said board member Traci Ellis.
  Ellis asked if transportation gets students to school on time to receive breakfast before school, which King said “not at all locations,” and she asked: “Do we have any idea on kids who are able to take advantage of breakfast before the bell?”
  King said currently between 22 and 25 percent of students receive breakfast before class across all district schools.
  Board member Sue Kerr asked if all students were eligible when breakfast after the bell was piloted which King said: “We gave it to the whole class. It was 100 percent of the schools that were involved.”
  Kerr also asked about waste, which King said: “It was pretty significant in addition to the fact we had to use additional personnel because we had to cart coolers to each of the classrooms which wasn’t the preferred method for keeping the food at the proper temperature.”
  If the district did not receive the waiver the district would still offer breakfast before and after the start of school, and Kerr asked: “Theoretically a student could take two breakfasts?”
  “No we wouldn’t allow them to do that,” said King, but he did not offer how that would be policed to assure students didn’t double up.
  That evening, the board did vote unanimously to approve $10.9 million in itemized bills as well as a $28,710 expenditure, out of the education fund, for Raptor Technologies.



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