Hudson ponders free school meals for all

HUDSON–Free lunches and breakfasts for all students, regardless of economic status, state data showing an improved graduation rate and discipline possibilities for student athletes came before the Hudson City School District Board of Education at its meeting Monday, June 23.

Catherine Drumm, the district food services director, recommended that district schools offer free lunches and breakfasts to all students on a trial basis for a year. She explained that her proposal would increase federal and state reimbursements to the district for the free meals it served.

Currently, 65% of district students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. For free meals, governments reimburse the district 55%. But under the federal Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act of 2010, schools with a high enough concentration of students from low-income families would receive extra food funding for offering free meals to all students. The Hudson City School District (HCSD) qualifies for this program, and, if implemented, reimbursement for free meals would increase to 82%. The 2010 act’s stated motivation, Ms. Drumm said, was to “increase access to nutritious meals” and to “reduce paperwork.”

The cafeterias would still need cashiers, and free meals would have to consist of all certain specified items. If a student takes a non-specified item, he or she would have to pay. Likewise, students would have to pay for taking too large a portion of a specified item or going back for seconds. And if tray contains only some—rather than all– of the meal’s requirements, the student would have to pay for them a la carte.

The cafeterias would continue selling water and extra juices.

Even for free meals, the cashiers would have to check each student’s identity card and make sure that each student would take only one breakfast and one lunch. And Ms. Drumm said she would still have monthly paperwork.

She told the board that districts that Albany, Schenectady and Poughkeepsie districts have already tested the universal free meal program and the director in Poughkeepsie told her it was “a success.”

Hudson’s meal program is currently “self-sustaining,” thanks to federal and state reimbursements, and needs no local school tax money. Ms. Drumm expects that with universal free meals, the situation would remain the same.

Maria McLaughlin, who was elected to the school board and takes her seat next month, has a child in a district school. She brought up projects to plant school gardens and asked whether produce from those gardens would qualify for use in free lunches.

Ms. Drumm said it would and that the cafeteria already uses food from the high school garden.

District Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino presented data that showed in the past four years the percent of district students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch has increased from 57% to 65%.

This data was part of a presentation on the State’s annual report card for the district. Other highlights of this presentation included:

The high school graduation rate for the Class of 2013, those who entered high school in 2009, was 69%. This was 10 percentage points higher than graduation rate for the Class of 2012. Superintendent Maria Suttmeier noted that Destination Graduation goals called for a 15% increase in graduation rates, and this was a 10% increase in one year. But she cautioned that the rate could fluctuate. Other recent graduation rates were 61% for the Class of 2011 and 63% for the Class of 2010

In the ELA (English language arts) and math grades 3-8 assessments, the percent of students scoring “proficient,” with a 3 or 4, dropped compared to last year, as expected. Suggested reasons include the impact of Common Core curriculum standards the not infrequent changes from the state Education Department in criteria for assigning scores on the scale of 1 – 4.

This week the board also discussed fine tuning the Athletic Code of Conduct to clarify the treatment of school athletes who have been accused of misdeeds–on or off school property–between the time of accusation and the resolution or the case. In its most recent form, the code allows the district to remove the student from the team and to forbid the accused athlete to participate in any school sports “if the school has sufficient evidence that the student has committed a crime.”

Board member Derrick Smart expressed concern that this violates the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Board Vice President Tiffany Hamilton agreed. “What if we discipline a student and he gets acquitted two months later. It’s not for me to decide whether he’s innocent or guilty. That’s for the court,” Ms. Hamilton said.

But Board Member Carrie Otty said, “What if an athlete misbehaves at a public event? It reflects badly on our team.”

Board President Kelly Frank suggested rewriting the relevant sentences.

Also at the meeting the board:

Discussed a proposal to study whether to build a traffic loop from Washington Street Extension for the John L. Edwards Primary School. The District owns the property in question, but the study would include “soil experiments” to see if the land could “hold” the traffic.

The loop’s stated purpose would be to reduce school transportation congestion on State and Carroll Streets. The study could cost $15,000

Approved a binder agreement for the sale of the Greenport School and its land for at least $390,000.

The next Board meeting will be Tuesday, July 1, at 7 p.m. at the Hudson high school library.

 

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