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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

U-46 Board agrees on mandate exemption


By Seth Hancock
  On Monday, April 24 the Board of Education in School District U-46 unanimously approved an exemption from a mandate from the state to provide breakfast after the bell but not without some controversy as board member Traci Ellis claimed the district needs to take on parental responsibility while Jeanette Ward said parents are still responsible for the wellbeing of their children.
  The state mandate, enacted earlier this year, requires “schools where at least 70 [percent] of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches” to provide breakfast “after the start of the school day.” There are 19 schools in U-46 that meet that requirement.
  U-46 already offers breakfast at all schools prior to the start of the school day and previously piloted a breakfast in the classroom program. Using that experience Jeff King, chief operations officer, estimated the district would annually lose $297,444 in food and labor costs and an additional $680,000 in lost instructional time if the district offered this mandate.
  “Some of the difficulties with that particular program is that that program was offered to every student in the school and it was served in the classroom which required additional personnel to move food all around the building,” said King of the piloted program. King added that the state recommended offering breakfast to “only do that in the cafeteria area” while saying there were distribution, production, cleanup, loss of instruction time and record keeping issues.
  Board member Sue Kerr asked how much in additional staff would be needed if the district did not receive the exemption, and what the percentage of students eating breakfast at school is for the current offering before class begins.
  King estimated “a couple more people for the production size” would be needed as well as additional time added to current staff, and on the current offering “I think our average across the district was somewhere around 22 percent.” He added that he saw no sign of transportation issues leading to a problem with students getting to school in time to eat breakfast before school.
  Kerr recommended keeping cafeterias open longer for any students who do arrive late.
  For Ward, who attended the meeting via phone due to a work commitment, she supported the exemptions for two reasons, one being that it’s an “unfunded mandate” and the other that parents are responsible for feeding their children.
  “It’s not the job of the school to provide breakfast,” Ward said. “If you head down that road, where does it end? Soon, we’re going to be providing dinner, housing, clothing and what else. It’s not the job of the school to become parents. If the parents will not, the school cannot, and there are a plethora of private charities available to feed those who are in need of temporary assistance.”
  While Ward encouraged residents to freely help those in need, Ellis said she was “more than willing for (U-46) to take it on.” Ellis added that she doesn’t “care what their parents do or don’t do.”
  “I wholeheartedly disagree with Ms. Ward,” Ellis said. “Feeding kids benefits us so that they’re in a position to receive what we’re offering which is teaching and they have an opportunity to learn. I absolutely believe that it’s a responsibility that if we can take on that we should take on.”
  Ellis said the reason she voted for the exemption was because the “state of Illinois is not funding us appropriately.” Board member Veronica Noland said she “wholeheartedly” agreed with Ellis.
  Board member Phil Costello said “the amount of waste that our food programs generate is a concern to me” and he wants “better allocation of tax dollars as opposed to wasting our tax dollars.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that the group that sponsored the bill requiring this mandate was “surprised to hear that there’s a cost to it,” and he said he will be meeting with that group to offer so-called “cost neutral” ideas. Board member Cody Holt asked what organization that was, but Sanders did not have the group’s name at the meeting.

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