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School Officials Say Breakfast Report is Misleading

Board president, interim superintendent see flaws in recent report's estimated number of low-income students not being served free- and reduced-price breakfast in West Orange.

 

School officials pushed back against a recent report this week claiming the district does not provide free- and reduced-price breakfast for the majority of its low-income students.  

The second School Breakfast Report cited 1,748 out of the 2,591 eligible students in West Orange did not receive a federally funded free- or reduced-price breakfast in 2011-12. 

Board President Laura Lab, however, did not agree with the overall findings of the report.

“I think the report had information but it did not have the whole picture,” said Lab. 

When the whole picture is taken into account, said Lab, a variety of issues can be seen working against the district. The breakfast program is served in the morning, for instance, which can be missed by students who are late or who come in at different times. Lab added serving breakfast later in the morning is a potential challenge because it will take away from instruction time. 

The findings in the report are based on if “every eligible child received a school breakfast all 180 days of the school year,” which Lab said was unrealistic because it does not take into account absences. In addition, it counts as a strike against a district if a child does not choose to participate in the program. 

A free- and reduced-price breakfast program is mandated in schools with a low-income student population of at least 20 percent. All of West Orange’s schools meet this threshold except the St. Cloud and Gregory elementary schools, but the programs are offered in those schools as well. 

The federally funded School Breakfast Program is available for children living in low-income families. A family of four earning less than $30,000 a year qualifies for free school meals, and a family of four earning about $42,000 qualifies for meals at a reduced price. 

The number of eligible students in the report is approximately correct, said Interim Superintendent James O’Neill, but he agreed it is unrealistic to believe there are about 1,700 going hungry in the district every day. 

“We can’t force people to bring their kids to school to have breakfast,” said O’Neill. “... If kids came in on the regular bus, the kitchens are open and they could have breakfast; we have it available for them, but they just don’t take advantage of it.”

The free- or reduced-price lunch program does not have the same low participation rate. The lunch program serves nearly all eligible students, according to district Business Administrator Mark Kenney.  

The difference between the breakfast and lunch programs, said Lab, emphasizes the challenge of getting students to school on time for the breakfast program. 

The reimbursement figure for West Orange, estimated in the report as about $470,000, is also misleading, said Lab. The figure is not a profit for the district, rather only a repayment for food that is served, and does not take into account district expenses to hire personnel to prepare and distribute the food.

Brett Kaiser October 09, 2012 at 10:02 AM
>> A free- and reduced-price breakfast program is mandated in schools with a low-income student population of at least 20 percent. Maybe you could post the actual Mandate, it's rules and penalties for this "Mandate". And who issues the "Mandate" in the first Place. And What is the Actual percentage of low income families? How is that determined. We can't even keep track if the students actually LIVE in West Orange in the First Place. Is it by the "Honor" System?
Brett Kaiser October 09, 2012 at 10:06 AM
And why put the burden on the schools? Why not just give the money (or food) to the families that need it, so they can have their children fed before they come to school? And Why do they miss the buses in the first place that they are late for school?
Ryan October 09, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Brett, my understanding is that the "burden" is on the schools because the primary benefit is seen (by the program's designers) as going to the schools and their mission. It is about making sure that the kids in the classroom are sufficiently nourished that they can focus on their lessons. Hungry kids in the room disrupt the learning experience for everyone.
john anthony prignano October 09, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Laura Lab is concerned because it will take away from instruction time?? WOHS provides the hourly equivalent of 14 days less yearly instructional time than the State average,and 30 days less instructional time than Montclair High .The State and District keep adding non- core curriculum mandates. The Board's response has been to schedule 12 early dismissals in the grammar schools and not make up the hours lost from early dismissals and late openings because of emergencies.. In the grammar schools,the school day begins at 8:45, but instructional time doesn't begin until 8:55.That's 30 hours.The State has mandated an anti - bullying curriculum, and the WO Board approved 2 field days, fitness testing, and lessons on healthy eating.As I said, the Board's response to this situation has been to reduce classroom time,when it's obvious that there is an absolute necessity to increase instructional time.The teachers say "We come early, we stay late." What would be the problem with putting that time in the contract: In another District, the Board wants more instructional time, which if agreed to, would equal the county average.The Board has offered 5.5% for 3 years.{ 54k State workers will receive a 2.75% increase built in over 4 years } The teachers want 8.5% for 3 years, but they will settle for 7.5% if the Board drops it's demand for the additional instructional time. No one sincere about providing children with a quality education would exhibit these types of behaviors.
Lee Sutton October 09, 2012 at 10:12 PM
It's not the childs fault if their bus is late. I think that there should be grab and go bags for late bus students. Teachers would have to allow these students to eat in class, but it beats these kids having to go hungry.
Michelle Cadeau October 12, 2012 at 12:55 AM
This is exactly what I said when reading the first article. The breakfast IS THERE ... everyday.... but if the kids are absent, brought to school late (the bus my kids take might be late ones a year if that) or not at all. I think it is better if the breakfast is served in school than the money be given to the families (I am assuming they get food vouchers anyway if their kids qualify for free or reduced lunch) I have NEVER seen the breakfast being closed at my kids school - in 7 years (Pleasantdale) but I have seen kids miss the bus, be late for school ...
john anthony prignano October 13, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Isn't there a multi- billion dollar industry of protein and carbohydrate drinks and snacks for "people on the go"? Let a nutritionist select healthy, natural {organic } products - no white sugar, low sodium, caffeine free, no caffeine derivatives, gluten free, etc.. If the District can't find a product to suit it's specifications, companies will make a big customer's specific recipes.Companies have been doing this for a long, long, time for celebrities,people with allergies,people who are on salt-free diets, etc. Why must any child begin the day hungry, or begin the day without the quality protein and carbohydrates and other virtually child - specific nutritional requirements that are essential to a child's overall well - being, which includes their ability to focus and to learn. If the Federal Government won't reimburse the District for this specific program, the District should do it anyway .There's a great deal at stake.

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