MANTI—As students return to class this week, Delene Coates, Nutrition Specialist for South Sanpete School District (SSSD) shared some concerns about food services with board members at their first monthly meeting of the school year on Wednesday, Aug. 10.
For the past two years, school lunches and breakfasts have been free because of special funding due to COVID-19 without filling out the fee waiver forms. That ended on June 30, nearly two months ago, and the burden is on parents to remember to actively apply for free or reduced lunches again as they did prior to the pandemic.
Coates told the council that she thinks it’s going to be hard for parents to remember to fill out an application for free or reduced meals because they haven’t had to in a while. In the past year, 40 to 50 percent of students in the SSSD have eaten free or reduced meals.
“I think that with the high cost of gas and food, it will be hard for some parents to be able to pay for lunches,” Coates said.
Despite the dramatic increase in food costs due to inflation, there is a silver lining in the district in that meal prices will stay the same as they have been in the past.
“Prices are not going up, and we are grateful for that,” Coates said.
Administrators said applying for the free or reduced program helps ease financial burdens on families, but it benefits the schools as well.
“A lot of our programs are run based on the number of free and reduced applications that we get,” District Superintendent Ralph Squire said.
The district is encouraging families to apply, saying that number often helps schools when it comes to future grants and classifications.
One of the programs benefiting from these applications is Gear Up. In the past, the district was receiving funding for the program, which provides career and college opportunities for students. Since then it has lost the program, one of the reasons being a drop in free-and-reduced lunch applications.
“These applications are used to help us apply for and get grants, to stay enrolled as a Title One school, to provide funding for much needed programs,” Squire said. “It really does so much more than just give students free lunch.”
Applications are available at the district office, schools in the district as well as online. Squire said there are videos in English and Spanish to help assist those who want to fill the application out online.
Coates wants parents and students to know that school lunch is healthy, and it tastes good. Each week, the menus must average 550-650 calories per day for elementary, with only 10% of those calories coming from saturated fats. Students can only have 1,230 milligrams of sodium, 80% of all grains must be whole grain rich, and they have to offer a red/orange vegetable, and a green leafy vegetable.
Each day, school food service workers across the district feed about 2,100 students lunch and 640 for breakfast each day.
In other discussion, Jake Hill, district business administrator, shared some good news on the district’s tax rate.
SSSD’s tax rate has dropped for the past two years because values in the county have continued to increase. The certified tax rate system can be confusing, Hill said, but the basics are that the system is revenue-driven, not rate-driven.
Hill said that if property values increase, the system automatically pushes the tax rate down, so the school district receives the same amount of revenue year over year, plus any new growth as value is added to the tax rolls from new residences or new businessses.
If the district needed more local revenue, it would have to go through the Truth in Taxation process, which has been happening in some local government entities as of late.
“The South Sanpete School District is not going through this process this year,” Hill said.