News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 28, 2014
Island schools offer free meals to students

by Tevlin Schuetz

Apparently there is such a thing as “free lunch” and for the students of Deer Isle-Stonington schools, it is happening when they return to the cafeteria on September 2.

Free lunch and breakfast will be provided to students at both the elementary and high schools this school year.

Superintendent Mark Jenkins said in a phone conversation that the district will provide free breakfast and lunch for all students at Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary when the school year starts.

Student lunches will be free at Deer Isle-Stonington High School as well, and free breakfasts will be available there soon, he said, likely within weeks.

The possibility of free meals for all students was discussed by the school board during the budget season, Jenkins said, and it was unanimously decided that the provision be included in the budget. The idea had “universal support,” he said.

Jenkins said the board’s decision was largely based on a few different factors, the first of which was the growing concern over food insecurity with respect to the economic challenges many families are facing. “It’s not necessarily a poverty thing,” he said, and he explained that there are families with incomes high enough to make them ineligible for free and reduced-cost meals, but who still cannot easily afford regular school meals.

CSD Board Chairman Mark Cormier agreed. As he stated in a phone conversation: “It was felt from the high school representatives on the board…[that this] would increase the number of kids eating.”

According to data made available by the Maine Department of Education, for the 2013-14 school year, 97 out of 214 students at the elementary school, or roughly 45 percent, were eligible for free or reduced-cost meals, and 27 out of 109, or just under 25 percent, were eligible at the high school.

Jenkins also said the district can “do more with more,” noting that the arrangement will yield a better economy of scale. If the CSD increases the number of meals served, requiring more supplies from vendors, they will be able to get more foodstuffs at better rates. He also anticipates that the schools will be able to increase the quality of the food they prepare.

Jenkins said that the cost to provide free meals—just under $40,000—isn’t exorbitant. “So why not provide free lunch?”

The overall number of students qualified to receive reduced-cost and free meals is also a factor in bringing state and federal funds to the lunch table—and beyond. A school receives funds and reimbursements for a variety of its programs based upon the number of students qualified, Jenkins said, adding that many of these programs are unrelated to food.

Jenkins and Cormier emphasized that, regardless of the availability of free meals to all students, it is important for parents to complete the forms for eligibility for free and reduced-cost lunches because the school system is still reimbursed for these expenses based upon the number of eligible students.

And if filling out paperwork is a turn-off, Jenkins said, “Once we get a baseline count, we won’t have to [repeat the process] for another three years.”