Board pleads for more free or reduced lunch applications
By Robert Williams
The Frazee School Board held a special meeting Monday, June 27, to discuss and approve the preliminary school district budget for the 2022-23 school year.
“The revenues and expenditures both did reduce pretty proportionately,” said Business Manager Chrissy Clapsaddle.
Declining revenues are primarily tied to the district’s decline in enrollment, along with ESSER money not being included in the budget.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding was signed into law in 2020 and 2021 as part of the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan.
“Right now, we are unable to submit our ESSER budget to the state for approval so I had to take that out of our budget,” said Clapsaddle.
Enrollment for the coming year is 828, a decrease of 19 students, however those numbers are subject to change prior to the start of the school year.
The lack of a summer food service program also has a negative effect on revenue. Last year, the Minnesota Department of Education approved the district to be part of the 2021 Summer Food Nutrition Program. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program provided free breakfasts and lunches to children up to 18-years-old. Adults were also provided the opportunity to purchase a healthy meal for $6.85 a day.
This summer, a similar lunch program would have required students to eat the lunch onsite, rather than the takeout manner during the pandemic. Given the construction going on at both the high school and elementary campuses, the summer lunch program was eliminated.
Compensatory funding continued to fall and garnered much of the discussion during the meeting. That funding can be directly improved by parents and the comments from district and board members were a similar refrain to last year’s budget meeting.
“That is based on the parents filling out the free and reduced applications and when we have free breakfast and free lunch parents aren’t as motivated to fill those out and that affects our revenues,” said Clapsaddle.
While free meals were a convenience to parents and students, a lesser number of submitted applilcations produced a negative effect on the district’s bottom line.
“It was difficult to do that last year because we had free meals,” said superintendent Terry Karger.
Both the district and school board members are hoping the program will be aided by the assistance of parents.
“It should spark some interest with inflation and all these other things going on, I would see more people wanting to take advantage of the stuff that’s out there and I wouldn’t blame them,” said school board chair Thaddeus Helmers. “So we could actually see a change in that number based on previous years prior to the free food.”
The board had a lengthy discussion on the effect of parents not filling out free and reduced lunch applications and its direct correlation to less funding for the district.
“I just want to make sure that the public understands we are not receiving our full potential of income because a portion of our public isn’t filling out the forms,” said board treasurer Nathan Matejka. “It’s not something we’re not doing; it’s something that we’re not getting.”
Vice chair Kimberly Antonsen noted that families who may or may not qualify are asked to complete the paperwork.
“If they think they do, they should,” she said. “Some people feel they aren’t going to qualify so they don’t fill it out but you still should.”
Last September, Helmers made a direct plea to parents to use the benefits.
He reported in 2017-18 there were 47 percent of district residents utilizing free and reduced lunches. That number dropped to 35 percent in 2021.
The district lost upwards of $200,000 and that trend is continuing if families do not apply for the benefit.
That loss of revenue can translate to larger class sizes and reduction in staff, along with benefits lost like waived activity fees.
A direct link to the application is located on the district’s website by selecting the Departments drop-down menu and expanding the food service-nutrition drop-down to select free-reduced lunch application or by visiting directly at: frazee.k12.mn.us/departments/food-service-nutrition/free-reduced-lunch
Food costs factored into negative numbers on the expenditure side of the budget as well.
Projected expenditures highlighted increasing food prices causing a projected food service fund balance of -$73,574.
“The reason for that is our food prices have just increased,” said Clapsaddle. “There is a supply chain disruption so you don’t have a lot of options on who you can get your food through. You really have to take what you can get and try to make the best out of it. We’re kind of stuck with that one.”
Clappsaddle was quick to note that all the numbers are still projections and estimates only.
“All of this information is preliminary,” she said. “We’re going to do another revision like we typically do to get a more accurate pupil count and add our ESSER funding and just get an overall better picture of our expenditures and revenues.”