Claremont schools push meal program sign-ups to boost aid for the district

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 08-03-2023 11:23 PM

CLAREMONT — The school district is working to have as many families as possible complete the application for free and reduced-price meals because each student who qualifies can mean more in state financial aid to the district.

SAU 6 Business Administrator Mary Henry told the School Board this week the district receives $2,300 for each student on the free and reduced-price lunch program and another $8,500 under what is termed an “extraordinary grant” for the program. The grant is a program that targets school districts below a certain level of property valuation and pays out the aid on a per-pupil basis, based on the number of students who receive a free and reduced-price lunch.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Henry said, the state paid for the lunch program in all school districts, so there was no need to complete an application for free and reduced. Families fell out of the habit.

“We want to get people back in the swing of filling these out,” Henry said at a meeting Wednesday, adding that nonprofits in the community such as the Claremont Soup Kitchen and TLC also receive assistance based on the schools’ free and reduced-price numbers.

The district needs to have families complete the form by Oct. 15.

“We have to promote it to everybody,” Henry said of the program.

For those designated as “reduced,” breakfast is 30 cents and lunch 40 cents. Students whose families are receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are automatically enrolled, Henry said.

Henry and the board agreed that some families may be reluctant to complete the form because of a “stigma” attached to receiving the assistance and therefore it is important that the district try to capture all families and not target some.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

“It is here to help,” Henry said. “Everyone falls on tough times. Families need to understand they are not being singled out.”

At the upcoming Back to School Festival on Aug. 26, the district plans to have staff available to urge parents to complete the forms. Even if a family qualifies but does not use the free and reduced-price meals, it can still help the district, Henry said.

Henry also told the board that the Claremont district will receive $500,000 more in adequacy aid that was estimated for the current fiscal year and that the money will be applied to lower the tax rate impact when the rate is set later this fall.

Before COVID, the Claremont School District experienced significant debt under its school lunch program through the Abbey Group, which was providing meals to the district. Donations were made to pay the debt, but it continued to grow. The SAU now contracts with Fresh Picks Café of Manchester for meals.

Henry, who recently began working for the SAU, said that was not an issue for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years because the state paid for all lunches. She has not looked into the debt situation for the most recent fiscal year that ended June 30 but did emphasize that under the law, schools are obligated to provide students with lunch.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.