Area school districts prepare for free meal funding to run out

Supplemental funding through a state program that allowed for the continuation of free school meals for all students is running out, which means students will soon return to paying for meals, or receiving free and reduced price meals only if they qualify.

Funding provided by the School Meals Assistance Revenue for Transition (SMART) program will run out by the end of the month for many school districts.

Both Wallingford and Southington administrators project that their funds will be depleted by Nov. 30, meaning starting Dec. 1, the school districts will return to paid meals. Cheshire Superintendent Jeff Solan said he projects his district’s funds will last until the end of December.

The SMART program went into effect in August to bridge the gap in federal funding for universal free meals, which had ended with the expiration of pandemic-related waivers. After hearing from local officials, who stressed the benefits of providing free meals for all students, the state tapped into $30 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, distributing it to local school districts allowing them to continue to offer free meals to all students until the funding ran out.

Wallingford received a total of $553,513, Cheshire received $688,000 and Southington got $639,258. The amounts were determined by a formula, according to John Frassinelli, division director of school, health, nutrition and family services for the state.

With funding running out, local school officials are in the process of notifying families and urging them to apply for free and reduced price meals, if they haven’t already, in case they may be eligible.

Jennifer Mellitt, director of business and finances for Southington Public Schools, said the district already filed its notice to conclude the funding and has notified parents the district is returning to paid meals.

“We also encouraged parents to complete the free and reduced lunch application which is on our website,” Mellitt said.

The SMART program is ending as households and school lunch programs continue to grapple with higher food costs due to inflation.

The Southington Board of Education voted on Nov. 10 to increase the price of school meals by 25 cents due to the rising costs of food and supplies. The change goes into effect Dec. 1 for both breakfast and lunch at all Southington schools.

“We did have some discussion to see if the 25 cent increase would actually be enough to support the cost of the program and Ms. Mellitt did state that with the federal reimbursement rates and the profit from the prior year, we should be able to operate at this price point,” said James Chrzanowski, board member, at the Nov. 10 meeting. “We will be monitoring those closely.”

With this change, prices for meals are as follows:

Elementary: lunch- $3.25/breakfast- $2.25

Middle: lunch-$3.50/breakfast- $2.25

High School: lunch- $3.75/breakfast- $2.50

Reduced: lunch-$.40/breakfast-$.30

James Bondi, food services director for Wallingford Public Schools, said that he and his team are in the midst of sharing relevant information with families regarding the switch to paid meals. Starting Dec. 1, food prices for breakfast and lunch at Wallingford schools are as follows:

Elementary: lunch- $3.25/breakfast- $2

Middle: lunch – $3.35

High School: lunch- $3.45/breakfast- $2.15

Reduced: lunch- $.40/breakfast- $.30

At the middle school level, breakfast is not currently offered, but once it is, it will be $2.10

“Middle school breakfast is currently not offered but will be coming soon,” Bondi said.

Bondi urged parents to submit applications for free and reduced price meals. Applications are offered in both English and Spanish and can be found at the Wallingford Public Schools website.

Physical applications can be obtained at the Board of Education office, 100 South Turnpike Road in Wallingford, and can be returned to the student’s school office or mailed to 100 South Turnpike Road.

In Cheshire, Solan said the district will be able to offer free meals through the end of December.

“We are constantly reviewing the funds and information to see if we have any possibilities to extend further,” Solan said.

Solan said the district will give families at least 30 days’ notice before the funding runs out.

“We understand the benefit this has been to some families and the hardship it could put on families after the holidays and during the winter season,” Solan said.

jsimms@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @jessica_simms99

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