U-46 opts out of serving breakfast after school starts
Elgin Area School District U-46 officials opted out of implementing a new state mandate requiring feeding hungry low-income students breakfast after school starts.
The school board unanimously voted to approve an exemption on the basis that the program would be too costly to absorb.
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. Nineteen of 40 U-46 elementary schools are eligible for the program.
It costs U-46 about $875,000 to provide breakfast before the start of the school day. The district serves 3,700 meals per day at the elementary schools through the federally mandated School Breakfast Program. State and federal reimbursements cover roughly half the cost while students pay a portion.
The district loses about $245,000 yearly on its regular breakfast program and would lose roughly $297,000 yearly in total if Breakfast After the Bell were implemented, even after state and federal reimbursements to defray program costs, officials said.
During the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, the district piloted a Breakfast in the Classroom program at 10 elementary schools. It provided all students, regardless of income level, access to a free breakfast in the classroom, eliminating the need for cafeterias. Breakfast was served after the opening bell, and children ate together in the classroom, usually their homeroom, at the start of the school day.
That program was discontinued because it cut too much into instructional time, Chief Operations Officer Jeff King said.
"We had quite a bit of distribution issues and production issues, interference with instructional time and cleanup that needed to take place," King said.
King said that to implement Breakfast After the Bell the district would have to hire additional employees for food production and increase working hours for existing food employees, which would make them eligible for health insurance and therefore increase the district's costs.
School board member Jeanette Ward said she could not support an unfunded mandate, adding that feeding students is the job of parents.
"If you head down that road, where does that end? Soon we will be providing dinner, housing, clothing," Ward said.
"There are a plethora of private charities available to feed those who need temporary assistance."
School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis disagreed with Ward's characterization.
"Feeding kids benefits us so that they are in a position to receive what we are offering, which is teaching," Ellis said. "I'm more than willing for us to take it on."
But Ellis said since the state already owes the district money, she couldn't support absorbing the added cost of this mandate.
School board member Sue Kerr urged district officials to consider keeping school cafeterias open an extra 10 to 15 minutes or to have grab-and-go breakfasts ready for students who arrive at the last minute before the bell rings.