Elementary school’s meals free to all students
Rocky Mountain Elementary School now offers free breakfast and lunch to all of its students.
The school is one of five in District 51 that has offered free breakfast to all of its students since 2009-10.
The other four schools that provide free breakfast are Chipeta, Clifton, Dos Rios and Nisley elementary schools, all of which have more than 70 percent of students signed up for free or reduced-price meals due to financial need.
District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp said the district decided to launch a pilot program Friday at Rocky Mountain to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students because Rocky Mountain has the district’s highest rate of students already signed up for free or reduced-price meals — an estimated 83.6 percent this school year.
The high rate qualifies the school to receive reimbursement for all school meals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National School Lunch Program.
Sharp said the district hopes to see two benefits from the pilot program. First, being able to send students through the lunch line without having to pay will reduce line times from as much as 8 to 10 minutes to 3 to 4 minutes, Sharp estimated, leaving more time for students to finish a meal and more time to get a greater number of students through the line.
Second, Sharp said the program will allow district administration to cease counting free or reduced-price meal applications from Rocky Mountain.
The school will continue to use its free and reduced count from this year in coming years because determining whether a particular student qualifies will be unnecessary.
Although the pilot program is set to last four years, Sharp said the district can end the pilot at any time. The program could end if the school does not have enough students use the program.
Reimbursement money provided by the USDA, at $3.01 for each free lunch, is 66 cents more than the district charges for an elementary school lunch.
The number of students eating free lunch who did not earn the district a federal reimbursement before the pilot program began will have to be high enough to outweigh the $17,000 the school used to receive in a year from students who paid for lunch.
Currently, 36 percent of Rocky Mountain students eat breakfast at school and 70 percent utilize school lunches.
If the pilot program goes well, Sharp said he may consider expanding the program to Clifton and Nisley as well.