School Lunch

Only a few months into its first school year under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Conneaut School District is already close to reaching its target participation rates for the free breakfasts and lunches.

In a presentation given at last week's school board meeting, Business Manager Greg Mayle said 51.89 percent of students took part in the free breakfasts during November, while 72.01 percent participated in the free lunches. The district goal is for 59 percent participation in the breakfasts and 74 percent for the lunch meals.

"So kind of the moral of the story with this is we're getting very close to where we want to be," Mayle said. "We're not quite there yet, but that's kind of what we were expecting in the first year."

CEP is a federal program which provides reimbursements to districts in low-income area that serve free meals to their students. Though targeted at assisting students from low-income families, the meals are given to the entire student body regardless of their individual backgrounds. Conneaut's school board enrolled all of its schools in the CEP with a 7-1 vote held in June.

The participation rates for both the free breakfasts and lunches have steadily risen since they began in September. Breakfast participation started out at just under 45 percent, while non-finalized totals for December participation stand at around 55 percent, according to graphs presented by Mayle. Lunch participation, meanwhile, began at around 68 percent and December estimates place it just under 74 percent.

Even while the programs have not yet reached their goal, Mayle noted the number of students taking part in the meals was "head and shoulders" above 2018 participation under the previous paid-meal program. For example, breakfast participation in September 2018 stood at a little over 25 percent of students across the district.

In addition to the higher rate of participation, the CEP has also been kinder to the district's finances. While the cafeteria fund had a $23,241 loss in November, the account has an overall profit of $13,598 as of the end of November. Mayle noted that part of the profit came from a $37,666 equipment grant which the district normally wouldn't expect, but he remains optimistic about the numbers.

"We are profitable in the cafeteria fund in 2019, which is something we haven't been able to say in quite a long time, to be honest," Mayle said.

Comparatively, by the end of November in 2018, the cafeteria had a loss of $41,794. This deficit, according to Mayle, was because the district was struggling with negative balances on student accounts. Due to legislation passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2017, the district could not deny meals to students even if they could not pay for them, something which Mayle said limited the district's ability to collect on debt.

These negative balances and deficits were made up by a general fund reimbursement. Should the cafeteria fund remain profitable, such a reimbursement will not be necessary.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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