PARIS — SAD 17 directors voted Monday, June 17 to continue offering free meals to all elementary students despite some schools no longer qualifying for Community Eligibility Provision, the federal program that provides free meals to all elementary students.

Free meals have been offered to all elementary students since 2016 with approximately 70% of students participating in the program.

“The district has seen a 17% drop in our direct certified students from four years ago,”  said Food Service Director Jodi Truman.

Under the federal guidelines, schools must have 40% directly certified students to be eligible for CEP. Harrison, Hebron and Otisfield schools no longer qualify, she said.

“Those schools must once again distribute and collect applications for free and reduced meals,” she said.

However, lunches will still be free for all elementary students, regardless of eligibility.

The district will be subsidized at $3.39 per free meal; $2.99 for reduced meals; and 39 cents for paid meals.

“Subsidy revenue will be reduced by an estimated $115,000 but will not result in an operating loss to the program,” said Finance Director Cathy Coffey. The administration is working on increasing revenue and cost savings in other areas in order to compensate for reduced revenue.

Implications of “food shaming” legislation were also discussed.

“Students can not be leveraged to collect parent debt owed for meals,” said Truman. “New legislation requires districts to provide meals to students, even if the parents refuse to pay for the meals.”

The bill was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in April and goes into effect for the upcoming school year. It“prohibits punishing, openly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay or who has payments due.” It also requires communication about a student’s meal debts be directed a parent or guardian rather than to the student

Losses due to unpaid debt can not be covered by federal or state food service subsidies, said Truman. Instead, they must be covered either by revenues earned by the food service department from a la carte or catering, or included in the district budget.

In preparation of this, a la carte and catering profits are now being separated from subsidized revenues, she said.

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