Posted at: 08/16/2013 5:38 PM
By: Dan Bazile
SCHENECTADY -- Forget the brown bag or cash to pay for lunch if you're in the Schenectady School district. This year, your meals are actually free. And that goes for all students.
"We actually hope that this year we're going to double the number of meals we're going to serve effectively double the number of kids," said Schenectady School Superintendent Larry Spring.
Spring said many of the students eligible for free and reduced lunch are not using it. Parents and kids were not turning in their forms. He said 78 percent of the district's families qualified last year. Out of 10,000 students, Spring said they should be serving close to 8,000 free lunches. But the cafeteria only served about five thousand meals, that includes those who paid with cash.
"So we know we've got some kids that could be getting a lunch for free that aren't taking advantage of it," Spring said.
Part of the problem, according to Spring, is that some kids are embarrassed about their poverty. No matter what the reason, Spring said some kids are actually going hungry and the staff has found ways to feed them. They spend their own money to bring in pre-packaged meals or granola bars.
"In the high school, they try to intercept any kind of food that's not been touched yet," Spring said.
That will not happen this year. Every student, all 10,000 of them can get breakfast and lunch at no cost. Spring said it's tough for a hungry student to concentrate on learning. He hopes this new program will change that. As far as the cost, Spring says the change will not hurt their bottom line and taxpayer will not have to pay anything more.
"Because so many of our kids are eligible for free lunch, we really should be able to be reimbursed at a rate that keeps us cost neutral," he said.
However more students eating requires more work and equipment. That's why Walmart gave the district more than $300,000 to cover that cost.