Harlan Independent Schools Director of Student Services Emily Clem recently outlined the new Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program to members of the Harlan Independent Board of Education.
Clem said CEP allows high poverty schools to offer both breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students while eliminating the traditional school meal application process.
Superintendent C.D. Morton said this program works well in some districts “depending on the set up in the community” and not so well in others.
“Lots of school districts get publicity about doing it, because it’s a great service to the families,” said Morton. “You don’t hear so much about the number of school districts who try it and have to back off because it ends up costing more money to the general fund in the long run. I asked Mrs. Clem to investigate this and see if there was any way it could be done in our environment.”
Clem told members of the board the program is based on the number of qualified students you have — students who seek government assistance.
“The only school in our district that has enough directly certified students is Sunshine (Preschool) and they were on the borderline,” said Clem. “When I went to the state convention I talked with some people in the state department who really know about this and they thought with our setup in Sunshine it would really be good to try it. They think it will be successful. It’s definitely a good way to try it out. If it doesn’t work, we can back off it next year.”
Clem said her hope is the district won’t lose money since it is a good service for parents. She added, “hopefully, the district will make some extra money with their participation.”
“We’re going to try it and see how it goes. All Sunshine students will eat free breakfast and lunch,” said Clem. “The other students in the district do not qualify at this time.”
Morton added the district is “not looking to get rich on the school food service program.”
“Whatever we can do to help parents — packing lunch and buying up food is expensive,” said Morton. “The ones who want to take advantage of this, it will be made available to them. We’ll have to evaluate this as we go. My thinking is even if we just break even it’s a win for the parents. If we can maintain that then it’s a step in the right direction.”
Clem said the menu will be the same as for every other student. She said changes to this year’s menu will include sodium limits, whole grains and additional fruit at breakfast, which are mandated.
“Historically, we have had to subsidize the cafeteria,” said Morton. “We are significantly in the positive in that area and not having to subsidize them now. I think it’s Mrs. Clem’s attention to detail in the amount of food we are ordering, a close eye on making sure we don’t have a lot of extras that are not being used and we are making do with less people than the year before. Those dollars are not enough to change the world, but they absolutely help the general fund in the end. I’m very appreciative to Mrs. Clem for everything she has done there and the way she has run the food service program.”
Nola Sizemore may be reached at 606-573-4510 or on Twitter @Nola_hde