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General Brown schools hope to offer more free/reduced lunches

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DEXTER — An increase in the number of General Brown Central School District students who eat lunch for free or at a reduced price may be the answer to shrinking the school lunch fund’s deficit.

District Treasurer Lisa K. Smith said a decrease in daily lunch purchases, some amounts not paid by students or their parents to the lunch fund, combined with an increase in food costs and salary and benefits of food service staff, resulted in a $91,000 loss as of the end of June.

A new school year, with a new lunch price of $2.15 for all grade levels, coupled with an increased effort by school employees to have parents or guardians fill out the free or reduced-price lunch form, may make the situation less bleak for the 2013-14 year, Mrs. Smith said.

With the lunch price change, the district still expects to be at a deficit at the end of the 2013-14 school year, just not as large as it was in June. What may help is more outreach about the free and reduced lunch forms. Mrs. Smith said people often disregard the forms because they think they may not qualify when, at times, they do.

Mr. Grimm said another challenge is that if people fill out the form and are eligible, they have to use the free or reduced-cost lunch service. For each student who doesn’t qualify, the district is reimbursed less than $1, while for those who receive a free lunch, the district is reimbursed a little less than $2 each, Mr. Grimm said.

The message is simple, he said — the more students who use the free lunch program, the better off the school lunch fund will be.

A total of 531, or 35.5 percent, of the district’s 1,494 students are enrolled in the free or reduced-price program. Superintendent Cammy J. Morrison said getting more students into the program would do two things: alleviate a financial burden for parents or guardians and increase the district’s chance of being eligible to apply for more grants if that percentage reaches 40 percent or more.

She said the district has to offer lunch to every student, regardless of ability to pay, which is another reason why filling out the eligibility form is critical.

Operations Manager Gary C. Grimm said at one point last school year, the district saw 200 fewer students per day purchasing school lunches because of changes implemented through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidelines on calories, grains and protein for school lunches. Students didn’t like the more healthy options offered.

“Every beginning of school year is a new trend, too,” Board President Jeffrey West said.

“You don’t know what seniors aren’t buying lunch.”

Parents or guardians of students who have yet to fill out the form, or return it to the district office, still may do so.

For more information, call the school at 779-2300.

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