ABBEVILLE — Students at three schools in Abbeville County will be getting free lunch in the 2019-20 school year.
Trustees voted unanimously to enroll John C. Calhoun Elementary School, Westwood Elementary School and Long Cane Primary School in a federally funded program that provides free meals to high-poverty schools.
The board’s vote went against the recommendation of the district’s administration, however. Superintendent Betty Jo Hall said the district would likely lose money — about $40,000 each year — by enrolling in the three-year program.
Hall recommended waiting until the end of the 2019-20 school year to better understand how many children at each of the eligible schools actually eat school-provided lunch.
The amount of money the district will receive for its participation will depend on the number of students who actually eat school-provided lunch, as opposed to bringing food from home. While Westwood and Long Cane have enough low-income students to qualify for the program, they have fewer such students than John C. Calhoun, such that the total cost of providing universal free lunch is unlikely to be fully covered by the federal reimbursement.
The price of a school lunch is “coming straight out of the pockets of parents who pay full price,” trustee David Brooks said. “This is an opportunity for us to say, well there’s a federal program, we’re going to take advantage of it.”
The board also approved the first reading of policies related to tobacco consumption. Although district buildings already have signs letting students and visitors know that the use of tobacco is banned, the state legislature recently passed a law that has forced school districts to add language banning “alternative nicotine products” — i.e. vaping — as well.
Hall called the law another example of unfunded state mandates. Responding to a question from Trustee Keith Dunn, she estimated that the district would need to replace 50 to 60 signs at a cost of $350 per sign, a rough figure that includes the cost of installation.
In other business:
— Jean Smith, director of instruction, has retired after 41 years with the district and was sent off with a round of applause at the beginning of Monday’s board meeting.
— The district is looking for land to purchase in the event the board decides to create one consolidated high school for the county. Those who have centrally located land they are interested in selling can contact the district office.