Florence ISD offering food services to students at no charge
FLORENCE — The Florence Independent School District will be offering food services to students at no charge for the upcoming school year, serving approximately 1,050 students enrolled in the district.
Superintendent Paul Michalewicz said there are certain school districts that are a better candidate for this program.
“Part of being a good candidate for this program is an efficiently run food service program,” Michalewizc said. “A school district that does not operate efficiently would not be able to participate in this program, because they would not be able to cover those costs.”
When it comes to efficiency, Michalewizc said he is very proud of the Florence ISD’s food services department.
“We are very proud of the fact that this food services department operates very efficiently,” he said. “Our community and school demographics or student demographics make us a good candidate for this program. What that allows us to do is to allow breakfast and lunch services to students enrolled in Florence ISD at no charge.”
Michalewizc said he is very proud of what they have at Florence ISD.
“When we can offer something, even to our staff, I am proud of that,” he said. “For example, the teachers and other staff we have hired for this year, to give them the added bonus of meals at no charge for their own children in the district is an amazing perk.”
Continuing positive momentum in the district is what this new program is all about, Michalewizc said.
“I think the positive momentum that people realize that there is a positive vibe here, and we think this helps further that,” he said.
Florence ISD Food Services Director Lillian Barnett said the program is similar to what the district has already been doing.
“What the CEP program (Community Eligibility Provision) is doing is allowing the district to eliminate a lot of administrative paperwork by not taking applications anymore,” she said. “The reason we are able to do this is because our directly-certified free group is at a high enough percentage to allow us to do this.”
Barnett said the CEP does not take into account applications as they consider that to be error-prone, so direct certification are groups that use SNAP, who are homeless, migrants or foster children make the implementation of this program possible.
“There are several groups that are considered directly certified,” she said. “Our number of those directly certified kids are high enough now that allows us to implement the CEP program.”
Barnett said there are several benefits of the program for the community.
“The benefits for the community are that they don’t have to worry about the application any longer,” she said. “It’s going to benefit everybody, so it’s not a limited number of people. It’s all the kids in the district that are going to benefit from it.”
“The way that it is funded is that the district will be reimbursed per meal at a certain percentage,” Barnett said. “So we are not going to be reimbursed on the paid children. We are only going to be reimbursed on the free children. You have to make sure that that number is high enough that it will kind of cover those kids that we are not going to receive reimbursement for, but we will not be getting money from the parents anymore.”
The CEP program is a four-year program that the district qualified for this year.
“In four years, we will have to re-qualify,” she said. “If the demographics in Florence change and we are no longer eligible, we would go back to the way we had done things before, so applications would again need to be completed for free food services, and the other students would be paid. The other thing that kind of sold us on this is that if at any time during those four years, it is no longer economically feasible, we can opt out.”
Barnett said school food service, in theory, is supposed to operate within its own budget.
“We in food service are not supposed to take any money from the education part of the district,” she said. “We are proud that we do that. We are self-funded over there. We definitely do not want to be taking any of Florence’s education budget for food service, and we think that we will be able to continue to do that because we have done it up to now. We are hoping families will be able to stretch their budget a little further because of this program.”
Florence ISD is lucky to have an involved community, Barnett said.
“We have a very involved community, really great community,” she said. “Even those that do not have children are super involved in our schools. We are so grateful for that.”
The CEP offered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows schools in low-income school districts to offer a meal service program at no charge to students enrolled in the district. It is offered only to school districts with high poverty levels. Districts, like Florence ISD, can then offer both breakfast and lunch services at no cost to enrolled students, without collecting any applications. Under CEP, the schools are reimbursed based on the percentage of students who are eligible for free meal programs based on their families’ participation in programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
For more information, visit squaremeals.org.