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Schools Returning To Free, Reduced Meals

Meals, like this pictured Dade Middle School lunch, will no longer be free for all students starting next school year. Free meals were previously provided by a USDA waiver. Parents will need to fill out applications for students to qualify for free and reduced meals. Applications will be available online.

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Parents of Dade County School students will have to fill out applications for their students to qualify for free and reduced lunches for the next school year.

For the last two years, both breakfast and lunch have been free for all students, thanks to USDA waivers provided during the pandemic.

“The waivers did not get into the latest bill that was passed. We do not hold out much hope. USDA determines all of that, and we have no control over it,” Dr. Cleta Long, Director of School Nutrition, told the Dade County Board of Education members during their meeting on Monday, April 25.

Long explained that, in the past students would have free/reduced lunch status for the first 30 days of the school year, based on their previous year’s status. New applications could be filled out during those 30 days’ time.

“Right now, as far as we know, that’s not going to happen. Many directors, like I am, are worrying about that,” Long said.

The application cycle runs from July 1 to June 30. Therefore, if any parent tried to apply now, it would just expire at the end of June. If parents want to apply ahead of the school year, it will have to be done after July 1.

“We want to stress that free and reduced applications don’t just affect a student’s meal status. Examples of that are Title I, E-Rate, AP waivers, ACT and SAT waivers,” Long said.

Long noted that applications will be available online. One application can be filled out for all children in the family.

In addition, prices for meals will have to increase.

“We are seeing significant increases on a weekly basis. We are concerned about what that is going to look at the beginning of next year,” Long said.

Also, during the meeting, Supervisor of Transportation John Smith, provided the board members with a transportation update.

There are 20 established daily bus routes, and three of these are for special education students. However, due to a bus driver shortage, there are currently 18 daily routes in operation. There are 13 full-time drivers, five part-time drivers, and three full-time special education aides.

Approximately 231,622 miles were driven between August and December. This includes field and athletic trips, and miles driven in county vehicles and county maintenance vehicles.

“This is our third year that we have been accident free. We are very proud of that. Our drivers are diligent, focused and dedicated,” Smith said.

There are currently 28 buses in the school’s fleet, but not all of those are driven each day. Smith noted that three are currently in mechanic shops.

“I want to commend the board, because the board approved, starting about four or five years ago, the purchases to update our fleet. Sixty–one percent of our fleet is five years old or less. There are not many systems that can say that,” Smith said.

Mindy Haworth, Director of the Dade County Public Library, spoke to the board about implementing the PLAY student library card program.

The PINES Library Access for Youth (PLAY) program gives students free access to fines-free public library materials and online resources to help them succeed in school. The Cherokee Regional Library System will partner with the local schools in Dade County to provide the PLAY program.

The program will be available for students in Walker County beginning May 1, and Haworth would like to see the program in place for Dade County students before summer break starts.

“When students are enrolled in school, they will automatically get a PLAY card. Parents can opt out at any time. It is a modified version of a regular library card. They are allowed to check out five books, and they have access to digital resources. We feel like this would remove so many barriers,” Haworth said.

The board members approved the implementation of the PLAY program.

Chris Greene, Director of Information Technology and Network Services, informed the board that all their E-Rate applications, for projects including the rewiring of a server room, were approved.

“This year the E-Rate projects that we applied for were $109,643.11, of which E-Rate will pay for $87,714.49. This is a tremendous help to us,” Greene said.

Greene noted that he would inform the board members of the project details at a later board meeting.

Paula Stallings presented the financial report. According to Stallings, the fiscal year is 75 percent completed. The balance in the SPLOST V account is $2,991,172.50. The SPLOST VI balance is $273,271.64. Expenditures for the fiscal year so far total $14,178,619.28. The general fund balance as of March 2022 is $6,347,548.

In addition, the board members voted to begin the process of the 2022 Exemplary Board application.

The board went into executive session to discuss personnel and property. The board approved the hiring of Chastity Steadman and Vic Grider as assistant principals for the high school. Most recently, Grider was an assistant head coach at Coahulla Creek High School and was known for previously being the South Pittsburg head football coach for 22 years. In addition, the board approved the hiring of Megan Baugh and Trent Walliser as teachers, and Samantha Lowery as a substitute teacher. The board approved the retirements of Teresa Powell and Sharon Phillips, and the resignations of Wil Martin, Megan Williams, and Jennifer Gatlin.

The next Board of Education meeting will be May 23.

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