Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 11, 2012

Free, reduced-price meal recipients up 3 percent

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah Public Schools saw a 3 percent increase in the number of students taking advantage of free and reduced-price meals during the last school year.

Across the district, 73.2 percent of students qualified for those meals. Cherokee Elementary was the only site to see its percentage of qualified students decrease over the previous year – a drop of about 1 percent, according to Child Nutrition Program Director Rhonnie Kerns.

Kerns provided school board members this week with a a year-end report from 2011-’12.

Cherokee Elementary had the highest number of students qualify for free or reduced meals, 85.9 percent. More than 78 percent of Sequoyah’s students qualified; 73.5 percent at Tahlequah Middle School; 71.7 percent at Greenwood; and 66.5 percent at Tahlequah High School.

Kerns said the percentages play a major role in certain funds the Child Nutrition Program receives, including grant money and federal reimbursements.

Last year, 91.3 percent of the meals served at TPS were free or reduced-price meals, based on the total number of student lunches and breakfasts.

“Districtwide, we served breakfast to 36 percent of our students last year, and averaged 81 percent for lunch participation,” said Kerns. “Averages are higher at the elementary level than they are at the secondary level, which is common. Realistically, those are very high numbers and we’re very pleased with that, and we’re looking forward to reaching more students.”

Sequoyah Elementary had the highest daily average of student participation for both breakfast and lunch last year, with 48 percent of students eating breakfast every day, and 91 percent eating lunch.

“Districtwide, we ended the year with a plate cost of $2.31,” said Kerns.

The average plate cost across the district’s elementary sites was $2.49, while middle-school and high-school average plate costs were $2.13.

Kerns said the state-determined average plate cost – the minimum a district is allowed to charge for adult meals – has yet to be announced. For 2010-’11, the average was $2.89, and Kerns said she expects a “significant increase” next year because of changes to the Child Nutrition Program.

During the past school year, the TPS Child Nutrition Program saw profits of more than 11,700 from a la carte purchases: $4,714.22 from vending machines at the middle school and high school; $6,895.59 from Blue Bell ice cream sales; and $161.71 from extra milk and juice purchases.

“We don’t participate in much ala carte, so that’s not a significant number when you look at the total budget, but when you look at the fact that one oven costs $11,500, that buys us an oven, so we’re glad to have it,” said Kerns.

The Child Nutrition Program receives 79.8 percent of its income from federal reimbursements – “what we get from the free and reduced meals,” Kerns said – while 15.9 percent comes from full-pay meals.

“So it’s clear, free and reduced is extremely important to this community,” said Kerns.

A breakdown of commodities received shows that the district took in 436 fewer cases than in 2010-’11, at a “significantly higher allocation cost.” Kerns said revenue continues to climb each year, but expenditures are also climbing. The program collected more than $1.7 million last year, and spent more than $1.6 million, for a net profit of $58,596.82.

“I went back 15 years. The lowest we’ve been in the last 15 years was $9,000 for profit,” said Kerns. “The highest we were was about $116,000 and change, so we’re about in the middle. We’ve been averaging be-tween $50,000 and $70,000 for the past several years.”

 Kerns said statistics are important for the district to track, but she said the staff is what keeps the program operating successfully.

“It takes an entire team to run a district. The child nutrition team does a phenomenal job,” said Kerns. “They not only feed our kids great food, but they remember our kids need smiles and kind words, and a pleasant atmosphere in the cafeteria.”

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