U-46 considers opting out of serving breakfast after school starts

 
 
Updated 4/10/2017 3:54 PM
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  • Delilah Herrera, 10, a fourth-grader at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin enjoys breakfast as part of the Breakfast in Classroom program that was piloted at 10 Elgin Area School District U-46 schools during the 2013-14 school year, but was discontinued because it was eating into instructional time. Now U-46 officials are fighting a state mandate requiring the district to provide breakfast after the bell rings at 19 of its 40 elementary schools where more than 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

      Delilah Herrera, 10, a fourth-grader at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin enjoys breakfast as part of the Breakfast in Classroom program that was piloted at 10 Elgin Area School District U-46 schools during the 2013-14 school year, but was discontinued because it was eating into instructional time. Now U-46 officials are fighting a state mandate requiring the district to provide breakfast after the bell rings at 19 of its 40 elementary schools where more than 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that the Breakfast After the Bell program is mandated only by the state.

Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are fighting a new state mandate that would require feeding low-income students breakfast after school starts.

The mandate requires schools with 70 percent or more students eligible for free and reduced lunch to implement a Breakfast After the Bell program in the fall.

U-46 officials are seeking an exemption, saying the programs would be too costly to absorb.

The district loses about $245,000 yearly on its regular school breakfast program for elementary schools, said Jeff King, U-46 chief operations officer.

"Since we already subsidize the breakfast program, this would add additional cost to that subsidy," he said. "One of our options through the mandate is we can opt out, if the reimbursement is not covering the cost, which it will not."

It costs the district about $875,000 to provide breakfast for students at 40 elementary schools. State and federal reimbursements cover roughly half the cost, while students eligible for free and reduced lunch must pay 30 cents, officials said.

Nineteen of the district's 40 elementary schools would need a Breakfast After the Bell program, which if implemented would increase the district's overall unfunded cost to nearly $297,000 yearly.

That's not counting the loss of instructional time, which would be "a large expense," King said.

"We already know it's a loss. We already subsidize. Adding the instructional time would just compound that factor," King said. "What we are proposing is just to opt out of the elementary piece."

The district currently provides breakfast after the bell for students at some of its secondary schools, which would not be affected.

U-46 is not alone in this predicament as a smattering of suburban school districts are bound by the new state mandate due to high populations of low-income students.

Addison Elementary District 4 has been serving breakfast in the classroom for more than 4,200 students at its nine schools for nearly a decade -- a move by its school board to address how few students were eating breakfast offered before the bell.

"We are so far ahead of the curve," said Marcy Boyan, assistant superintendent for business services. "We were seeing that kids were not getting here in time for the breakfast that was offered before the bell, so we were proactive. Kids and parents get here just in time to get to class. We noticed that some of our students were hungry."

Last school year, the district served 369,925 breakfasts costing $450,000. Boyan said the program is paid for via state and federal reimbursements and student fees.

Other school districts are working to comply with the mandate.

At Wheeling School District 21, four of the district's 12 schools would need a Breakfast After the Bell program, spokeswoman Kara Beach said.

The district now serves breakfast to more than 6,700 students before the start of the school day at a cost of $131,000 yearly.

"We do plan to implement a (Breakfast After the Bell) program," Beach said. "At this point, we are just working on figuring out what that looks like."

At U-46, parents, students and community members can weigh in on whether the district should offer Breakfast After the Bell at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday in Room 140 at the Educational Services Center, 355 E. Chicago St., Elgin.

The school board will vote on a resolution on the program exemption April 24.

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