Commonwealth Journal

May 17, 2013

Pulaski County Schools to provide meals at no cost

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Don’t tell that to the Pulaski County School System.
Superintendent Steve Butcher told the Commonwealth Journal this week that the district has arranged a deal for the coming school year that would mean no student would have to pay for their breakfasts or lunches.
With more than a dozen schools serving thousands of students, that’s a lot of meals on the house. To cover the cost, the school district will be getting extra federal money per student courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of what Butcher calls a “community eligibility option.”
“We’ve entered into an agreement with the state (Department of Education),” said Butcher. “We’re going to feed all of our students breakfast and lunch for free. We’ve been working closely with the state department and the USDA, and they’ve given us all the information we’ve needed.”
Butcher said this plan wouldn’t affect the afternoon feeding program, night meals, or the summer feeding program provided by the school system, but would rather be “an addition,” he said.
Only a few school districts in the Commonwealth of Kentucky are doing this right now, said Butcher, taking advantage of the high numbers of students in the district already eligible for free or reduced meals.
“When you get to a certain ratio with the number of kids (eligible), you get to a tipping point where you can go with this option financially. You can come out okay,” said Butcher. “If you don’t have many students on free and reduced (plans), you probably can’t afford it. When we looked at the numbers, it showed we could do it.”
Right now, about 68 percent of students — about 3,825 — are eligible for free or reduced meals. Food stamp-eligible students factor in as well. 
Now, other families that are paying full-price will get a break at the hands of the federally-provided funding.
“For a middle school or high school, it costs about $13.50 a week to eat breakfast and lunch at school,” said Butcher, noting the amount is slightly lower at elementary schools. “If you multiply that by a couple of kids, that’s about $27 per week. That adds up. You’re looking at about $450 per child per year.”
The plan frees up students to spend a little bit extra in the lunch line if they’ve already got the money in their pocket.
“If they want to buy à la carte, they can get an extra slice of pizza,” said Butcher. “We want to make sure kids get fed. This will help a lot of families.”
Butcher said he and the school district’s food service director Lucille Hudson discussed the matter and decided it would make more sense financially for the school system to go this route, helping to shore up the food service fund, which is separate from the district’s general fund. It’s a financial help to the parents and guardians of Pulaski County students as well.
“We think it’s going to be a big plus for the kids and the school district,” said Butcher. “It’s something we appreciate having the opportunity to do.”