SAD 17 pilots free lunch program

A student at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway gets lunch. All SAD 17 students are receiving free meals for the rest of the school year.
A student at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway gets lunch. All SAD 17 students are receiving free meals for the rest of the school year.

PARIS –  Every child in School Administrative District 17’s eight elementary schools are eligible for free breakfast and lunch through the end of the school year.



SAD 17 is participating in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a federally funded program that encourages schools to ensure no student goes hungry. The district is eligible because more than 40 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Sixty-three percent of all SAD 17 students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch this school year.

The act is a federal statute signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2010. The bill is part of the reauthorization of funding for child nutrition, which includes the free lunch program in addition to setting new nutrition standards for schools.

Because the SAD 17 lunch and breakfast program is totally self-sustaining, school officials say they are monitoring the effect of the new program with federal subsidies before committing to another year.

“We are piloting it through the end of this year,” SAD 17 Business Manager Cathy Coffey said. “We will then make a decision about next year. If our subsidy doesn’t decrease under the program, we will recommend to the board that we continue.”

The district received $1,023,000 in mostly federal subsidies last year for its school lunch and breakfast program. A small amount comes from state subsidy, Coffey said.

Under the free communitywide lunch and breakfast program, the district is reimbursed based on the overall community poverty level, which is 52 percent.

But because the district will lose its income from paid lunches under the free lunch and breakfast program, the district will be reimbursed at 83 percent.

Officials have determined that it needs 5 percent more participation to break even.

The goal is to be able to serve all children free lunch and breakfast without losing money, Superintendent Rick Colpitts said.

“I would love to see it continue,” Food Director Jodi Truman said. “Our goal is to see all kids eating nutritiously. Statistics show kids do better in school and have better attendance if they eat a breakfast. That’s huge.”

Truman said participation in the lunch and breakfast program has expanded since it began May 11. Before that, elementary school students paid $1 for breakfast and $1.80 for lunch.

Truman said the number of children taking advantage of the free program has yet to be determined but the numbers are definitely up from previous months. In April, for example, 26 percent of the district students took advantage of the breakfast program and 44 percent took advantage of the lunch program, regardless of whether they paid full price, a reduced price or got it for free.

Truman said her goal is to encourage all students, regardless of economic status, to take advantage of the nutritious meals the school district provides.

“We’ve really done well getting the word out that we want all kids eating nutritious meals,” she said.

Truman, who attended a conference in New Hampshire last week about the program, said it is already in place in other states such as Connecticut and New Jersey. She said it is too early to see the effects the program has on student tests scores, but officials from those states she met said they love the program.

Truman said she will make a proposal to SAD 17 directors about next year’s plan shortly before school ends.

“We’re hoping that it continues. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the kids to have that,” she said.