Eighty-five percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches in the 2012-13 school year, according to a report made to Board of Education members at their Tuesday meeting. The percentage — up 1 percent from 2011-12 – is close to the school district’s poverty rate, which was 88 percent in the last school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Due to the high numbers, the school district was eligible this year for a department program called the Community Eligibility Option, according to Frank Horvatich, local director of Aramark, an international food service company that serves the district. The program, paid with federal taxpayer money through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, allows meals to be free for all pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students.
“This is huge for our district,” Horavatich told board members. “Just show up and eat.”
Horvatich said Lorain High School students and students from the Credit Recovery and New Beginnings academies were ineligible, but he plans to apply to the department again. Horvatich said 400 fewer breakfasts were served per day to high school students because teachers voted against allowing breakfasts to be served in classrooms.
Horvatich said Aramark hopes that will change next year.
“We know that if we serve breakfasts in the classroom, students will eat it,” he said.
Horvatich said after the meeting that need for free or reduced meals has grown “drastically” since he began working in Lorain in 1995. He said about 65 percent of students participated when he began. Horvatich encouraged parents who might not be aware their children are eligible for the eligibility option to go to the district’s website.