During a special called meeting of the Charlotte ISD school board on August 28, the board voted to pay for student lunches for the 2019-2020 school year with board members Christina Campos, Tommy Garcia, Secretary Melissa Romo, Vice President Cindy Zuniga and President Becky Ramos present.
Superintendent Mario Sotelo stated the administration and Region 20 recommend the board stick with the lunch prices they previously set in their August 8 meeting for several reasons. The first being that it’s best to see if the district can qualify for a federal government grant. It’s too late for this year, but they can apply for the following year. The second reason is they don’t have as much money as they thought in their budget. Sotelo stated it’s the board’s call, but they recommend sticking with the set prices.
“I would hate for you to start something now that you might not be able to sustain in the future. It’s your call, but the other thing is, it’s not in the budget. We did not budget for this additional money, which is an additional $40,000,” said Sotelo. “Now, if you’re willing to cut the budget somewhere else, we can do it.”
Board president, Becky Ramos said they needed to try. Finance Director, Nora Gaitan stated they have and the only thing they can do is apply for the grant or cut the budget elsewhere as Sotelo previously stated.
“What you’re saying is, if we apply for the grant and we find out next year that we can take that grant and get reimbursed for it, then we can offer free lunches? So when will we know? When can we apply?” she asked.
Director of Food Services, Debbie Luna explained they apply for the CEP grant in April/ May. Someone then comes down to audit the district and check their numbers. The school would be notified if they qualify for the grant before or by August. Other school districts who received the CEP grant this year, such as Poteet and Somerset ISDs, applied for the grant this past April. The grant is based on a percentage of the district’s students who are eligible for free meals through their participation in programs such as SNAP or TANF.
“They require 40 percent of our district to be eligible and right now we are at 55.3 percent, so we do qualify,” said Luna, who further explained that the grant will cover 92 percent of the lunches while the district will cover the remaining eight percent. If approved, the district will need to reapply for the grant after 3-5 years.
Ramos stated the district is trying to alleviate stress anywhere they can and provide a well-rounded environment for their students.
“I feel, personally, we don’t need to stress them over food if their parents aren’t being responsible enough to pay for their debt. It’s enough stress having your tray taken away one time or their tray not being given to them. That’s enough embarrassment to last them a lifetime. Specifically, for that year. If it happens to be during testing time, that’s just added stress I feel a little bit of money, and I’m not saying $40,000 is a little bit, but in comparison to what the child is going to be able to receive, I think it’s worth the sacrifice of paying for one year.”
Luna stated it’s very rare she takes a tray from a student. Instead, she will substitute the hot meal for a sandwich. Currently, there are two outstanding accounts totaling roughly $200 from the previous school year. Ultimately, the board does not want to take away a hot meal from any student if their parent is not paying their child’s lunch bill.
“If we are still going to charge them even if their parents aren’t going to pay, I prefer we don’t take their tray. That we not provide them an alternate meal. Just give them the tray, we’ve already prepared it, we’re going to trash it anyway,” said Ramos.
CISD currently offers free breakfast for their students through another program. Concern arose whether that program would be taken away if the district is approved for the CEP grant. Superintendent Sotelo assured the board it would not affect them.
A motion was made by Romo for Charlotte ISD to pay for the 2019-2020 school lunches for all students and apply for the CEP grant in the future and, if possible, for this year with Campos seconding. Motion passed unanimously.
Effective Thursday, August 29, Charlotte ISD will pay for all student lunches for the 2019-2020 school year. However, those with an outstanding lunch bill prior to Aug. 29 are still required to pay their bill.