Wood BOE rejects free school meal program

PARKERSBURG – Members of the Wood County Board of Education again rejected a school-wide free lunch program that would have served as many as 11 schools.

By a 2-2 vote, the board rejected approval of the proposed U.S.D.A. Community Eligibility Option.

The federal program provides school-wide lunch programs for students. The program is to help “the working poor,” those families who are employed, but make just above the cut-off line for federal food programs.

West Virginia is one of a handful of states selected to pilot the program and has more than 35 counties enrolled. Wood County school system administrators recommended enrolling the county’s 10 Title I schools and Waverly Elementary.

Board members Tad Wilson and Jim Fox voted in favor of the program. Board members Tim Yeater and John Marlow voted against it. Board member Lawrence Hasbargen was absent.

Yeater had issues with the inclusion of Waverly and taking funding from Title I schools.

“To tell them they aren’t getting the money that Title I schools fight for,” he said. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

The inclusion of Waverly would cause the school system to cover a shortfall in federal funding of about $100,000, according to John Merritt, director of federal programs for the school system. Merritt said the system receives federal funds based on free and reduced numbers.

“If we add another school that funding doesn’t change,” he said.

However, the money wouldn’t be needed until the 2014-2015 school year.

Wilson asked Law if the recommendation was for only Title I schools or to include Waverly. Law said the recommendation is to limit the program to Title I schools.

Beverly Blough, director of food services, countered Law, telling the board it should include Waverly. She pointed out Neale Elementary, a Title I school, is 78 percent free and reduced lunch. Waverly is at 80 percent.

“I think you will have to answer to the community,” she said.

Wilson moved to include Title I schools including Waverly. Fox seconded the motion.

About a year ago the board rejected a CEO plan to institute the program at 15 elementary schools and two middle schools. Fox tried to explain the board’s 4-0 rejection of the proposal last year. He reasoned there was no criteria to explain why schools were eliminated from the list.

Fox said this is a different recommendation. He felt better about the program because it encompassed all Title I schools.

“This is easier to justify.” he said.

“I have a hard time with this being fair and equitable to all the schools in the county,” Marlow said.

Rick Wilson and several other speakers noted school systems don’t charge students for bussing, textbooks or sports equipment.

“We are making schools meals consistent with other services,” he said.

Wilson also said of the all the counties eligible in the state that participate in the CEO program, none have opted out.

Dana Singer, another speaker, said out of all schools engaged in the program in 2011, all of the schools recommended it for someone else.

Jane Harrington told the board kids can’t be punished for the lack of parental responsibility.

“The kids can’t change that and they are the ones who suffer,” she said.

Jim Mullen spoke against the program, calling on the board to reject squandering taxpayer money. He said these government programs are expanding at an alarming rate.

“It teaches kids at a young age that government is there to provide for their every need,” he said.

He warned the program was creating another addiction to government.

“The government must expand dependency to maintain power,” he said.