Falls City lunch program no longer free

FALLS CITY -- As classes begin in Falls City this week, a program unique among Polk County schools has become a casualty of the recession.

FALLS CITY -- As classes begin in Falls City this week, a program unique among Polk County schools has become a casualty of the recession.

Since 2004, the Falls City School District has subsidized its meal program to ensure free breakfast and lunch for every K-12 student.

State budget cuts, however, prompted Falls City School Board members to adopt a small fee for children who wouldn't be considered low-income on the federal income scale for free or reduced lunch.

It's hardly a steep charge -- 50 cents for lunch. Still, "it's something we've been wrestling with for a couple of years," said Lynn Love, district business manager and the program's administrator.

Letters were sent out to parents on Aug. 26.

Falls City began offering free meals for all students after ending its contract with Dallas School District six years ago.

Making it free was driven by the poverty level in the district. Almost 100 of the district's 158 students in 2009-10, for example, qualified for free or reduced lunch -- a higher rate than surrounding areas.

"We do have a lot of young families in our population," Superintendent Peter Tarzian said. "And they're struggling with kids to make ends meet."

It costs Falls City School District about $99,000 to administer its meal program, including personnel, utilities and the cost of food. The school used $23,000 in general fund dollars to cover the cost, with the balance coming from United States Department of Agriculture reimbursements.

More than 43,200 meals were served last year.

The total enrollment of the district is also a challenge in running the program, Tarzian said.

"When you're on the small side of small like we are, the operating costs are quite high," he said. "There's a basic number of staff we need."

The district will continue to provide free breakfast for children in classrooms. Adults eating on campuses will pay an additional 50 cents for meals.

Savings from the small charge will amount to about $3,800 a year. It's possible another cost hike could be considered in the future, Love added.

School board member Bob Young was the lone dissenter when the district board voted last month.

Young said he understood the need for a charge, but didn't feel the amount of money saved was worth it.

"I don't know if it will make a big difference to people; I think everyone is used to paying for what they get these days," he admitted.

Still, "it tears at you to have to make cuts or changes to things that are going well," Young said.

For more information on Falls City School District's meal program: Lynn Love, 503-787-3521.


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