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The skinny on school lunch
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Jan Loomans, director of Newton County School System Food and Nutrition, presented information about how her department functions at Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting.

A large portion of Loomans' presentation dealt with how students qualify for the national free and reduced meal program and what happens if students habitually do not have money for cafeteria food.

 "We never want a child to go hungry," Loomans said.

Students whose families have a food stamp case number, are homeless or are foster children automatically qualify for free meals. A family's annual income can also determine eligibility; for instance, a family of two with a yearly income of $17,797 qualifies.

Families of two making $25,327 a year or less qualify for reduced meals.

Federal law requires schools to give applications for free and reduced meals to every student.

Although applications are handled on an honor system and the system cannot legally verify a family's income at the time of application, Loomans said every year between Oct. 1 and Nov. 15 her department is required to audit 1.5 percent of the students receiving free and reduced lunches.

This year the system verified income for approximately 150 students of the more than 10,000 enrolled in the program. Roughly 53 percent of Newton County Schools' students eat free and reduced meals.

Of the families audited this year, 35.7 percent failed to provide proof of income.

Those families received a letter saying if proof was not provided in 10 days, full payment for meals would be due.

Loomans said students can either pay for their meals with cash at the register or through their MealPay account set up online.

 "On the elementary level, if they arrive at the cash register without money," Loomans said, "we do allow the child to take that meal."

 Parents are notified immediately when a child cannot pay for their meal.

 She said workers are instructed to try to catch students who habitually do not have money for breakfast or lunch before they get to the cash register and to give them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 Students in middle or high school are given the options of borrowing money from a friend or eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 Loomans said a school principal and counselor ultimately decide what action to take, such as a home visit or social worker intervention, if a student consistently does not have funds for a meal.

 Another part of Loomans' presentation was to break down how the federal government reimburses the system for students eating free and reduced meals.

 Systems are reimbursed $2.47 for students eating at no cost, $2.07 for students eating at a reduced rate and 23 cents for students who pay the full $1.50 or $1.75 for their lunches.

 "So, for our paid students, we receive less money than for our free and reduced students," Loomans said.

 Because only $1.73 or $1.98 is collected from students paying in full and $2.47 is collected from students receiving free and reduced meals, the system "loses" 49 to 73 cents for every meal bought by students not eligible for free and reduced meals.

 Adult meals receive no federal reimbursement, which is the reason adult visitors pay more for same amount of food given to students.

 More money is given for breakfasts in schools considered a severe needs school, which is defined as a school with more than 60 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced meals. Six schools out of 20 in the system are categorized as severe needs.

 Loomans also discussed the cost effectiveness of two cashiers for one serving line.

 She estimated the system saves $25,000 by not purchasing second serving line equipment and using extra electrical outlets.

 The conclusion of Loomans' presentation detailed how the food and nutrition department is separate from the school system and receives no general fund budget money for salaries and equipment.

 The state reimburses the department $36,000 a month for salaries and equipment, but that amount has decreased over recent years.

 She explained how the department must maintain 1.5 months' expenses in cash reserve.

 Newton County schools serve approximately 5,300 breakfasts and 13,700 lunches each day.

In other news from Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting,

 • Administrators and head custodians attended training sessions on Nov. 12 to make certain all custodians are following the appropriate protocol in cleansing the schools. System administrators recently purchased a product unique in its ability to kill the MRSA virus on both porous and nonporous surfaces. A representative for the manufacturer is following up with all schools to ensure that the product is being used properly.

 • A meeting to discuss a two-year plan for renovations to Newton High School was held Nov. 6. State Facilities Consultant John Ramage, architect Ray Moore, Newton High Principal Joe Gheesling, NCSS Maintenance and Operations Director Bill Rosser and construction manager Don Wood attended the meeting. A walk through of Newton High is scheduled. Associate Superintendent for Business and Administration Deborah Robertson said the school's gym and kitchen are priorities for repairs.