S.F. school district losing millions on meals

Parents and students who fail to fill out a two-page meal application form for the San Francisco Unified School District are costing the district millions of dollars.

The tri-lingual application, which consists of nine sections, is used to determine whether a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches.

Last year, it took the entire school year to have 85 percent of the student body fill out the application. As a result, the district paid $9.7 million for thousands of breakfasts and lunches and counted on federal reimbursement for the students who were eligible. But because many of the students failed to prove eligibility, the district was forced to take $2.9 million for the food out of its unrestricted general fund.

This year, the district wants 100 percent of the applications by Oct. 5.

And while many schools won’t tell a hungry child he or she can’t eat without proof of a free meal plan, according to Assistant Director Zetta Reicker of student nutrition services, that doesn’t mean the administrators aren’t going to great lengths to reach that 100 percent mark.

Principal Christina Velasco from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy vowed to dye her hair purple in front of the entire student body of 229 if they all turn in their applications.

“I want to have fun with all these bureaucracies and all this paperwork,’’ Velasco said.” I knew this would motivate them.’’

And it’s about more than just getting reimbursement for meals. Some federal funding distribution is based on the numbers of free and reduced meals received by the schools.

For instance, 65 percent of schools receive Title 1 funding, one of the largest federally funded programs that pays for equal–opportunity experiences in areas from technology to teacher support. But those schools are only eligible for the funds because a certain percentage of their students get free and reduced lunches.

“In order for schools individually and the district to receive federal funds, we need to meet a certain threshold. So when we don’t hear from students about their eligibility, we don’t know either way,” school district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

 

School lunches

The district wants 100 percent of meal applications completed by Saturday.

 

2009-10 SFUSD meal prices

Elementary school:  breakfast $1.50, lunch $2.00

Secondary school: breakfast $1.50, lunch $2.50

High school: breakfast $1.50, lunch $3.00

 

2009-10 eligibility for reduced-price meals

— Annual income for a household of two cannot exceed $26,955

— Annual income for a household of four cannot exceed $40,793

 

2009-2010 eligibility for free meals

— Annual income for a household of two cannot exceed $18,941

— Annual income for a household of four cannot exceed $28,665

 

Sources: United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, San Francisco Unified School District

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