School lunch gap, service contracts among topics for SCS Finance Committee

Discussions regarding school lunches, budget amendments and renewal of service contracts were among the topics for the finance committee of Stanly County Schools Tuesday night.

Mandy Melton, nutrition director, spoke to the committee regarding the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a federal program allowing schools to provide free breakfast and lunch for students without households having to apply for them.

Melton said one grouping of schools, Albemarle Middle and East Albemarle, will expire from the program in the 2021-22 school year.

Stanly Academy has qualified for CEP but will expire next school year, while Central Elementary is at 58.95 percent, which is just below the 62.5 percent mark for a school to be fully paid.

Melton said last year, the board chose to cover the remaining costs for Central.

The percentages as a whole of free lunches have all gone down, she added. She estimates the gap between what is funded by the state and what the county will need at around $17,000.

Last year’s gap was slightly lower and this year. The county paid $14,276 from August to March to supplement the program before schools went out due to COVID-19.

She said CEP “was a great program but a slippery slope because once it’s started, as it has been here, it’s expected. It’s something that can change every four years.”

Board member Anthony Graves said he will recommend to continue the money for this year but looking forward to next year he wanted to know what the financial impact would be.

Melton said since child nutrition is in its own self-sustaining fund, school systems can not go into the next year with a negative boundary. Schools are billed for any unpaid balances and must pay the money out of their own instructional money.

She did praise private donations of $10,000 to paying those debts but the schools as a whole still owed a balance of approximately $13,000.

Some parents will just not apply for free or reduced lunch, Melton said, adding some families do not apply and leave “high balances” at those schools.

The process to apply Melton said is simple: either one page on paper or online giving families numerous ways to list their income.

When Graves asked about social workers helping people to file those forms, Melton said they have had workers to offer but people have refused.

Social Security numbers are also not required to apply for free lunch, she added. Melton said children are not denied meals and are fed no matter what.

The full school board will have to approve the motion.

The committee passed recommendations for several budget amendments recommended by Finance Director Terry Dudney reflecting increases in revenue to several of the funds.

At a special called meeting Wednesday, the amendments were approved.

Another topic covered by the committee was to put a hold on the renewal of service contracts.

Committee Chairman Jeff Chance said given the fact the board does not have a firm figure from the county in terms of money, along with money coming in from the federal CARES act regarding COVID-19, he believes SCS should hold off on any renewal of non-essential contracts.

The committee asked Dudney to get a list of the contracts. Dudney said it is necessary to see if any of those contracts are required to be continued without a 90-day notice or other formalities.

Some concerns were expressed for the amount of money given to SCS’s lawyer, Mark Lowder. Chance said the budget was for $18,000 but he had been paid closer to $80,000.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff James said he had not signed off on that, but it was possible something like a land purchase could have gone around him, which did not require his signature.

Dudney said the number paid to Lowder was $80,000, but Chance suggested a land purchase SCS made which was around $60,000 may have directly gone to Lowder as part of a trust for the lawyer to pass on to the sellers. The finance director said he would work to confirm that assertion.