SARATOGA SPRINGS — Come Monday parents and guardians of students in the Saratoga Springs City School District won’t need to send their kids to school with either a packed breakfast or lunch or money to grab food after the district approved funding universal meals for students for the rest of the 2022-23 school year.
It will cost over $1.1 million to provide every student with free meals. The district was able to save around $832,000 in its food department through food contracts and other efficiencies. To cover the gap, the district will use around $283,000 in COVID relief funds.
“For the past two years, we were very fortunate to have access to federal funds to fully cover meals for all students, regardless of family income,” said Superintendent Michael Patton in a message to district residents on the district website Wednesday. “Our families truly appreciated it when we could offer free meals for all students, and we know many families are still struggling with higher prices at the grocery store. Our Board of Education is committed to feeding all our students for the remainder of the current school year, and we will be advocating with state and federal officials to support local school districts’ efforts to offer free meals in the future.”
The federal government stopped providing free meals to all public school students as part of the pandemic-era relief program over the summer, forcing students whose families met certain income eligibility requirements to apply for the free and reduced meal program.
Patton has previously said the district is not only starting to see students with negative balances already, but has also seen more students applying for free or reduced meals so far this academic year.
Those who have negative balances will still be responsible for paying those charges, Patton said Thursday in an email follow-up.
“In the past, we have been very fortunate to have several community members offer to pay off negative school lunch balances, but this is not a guarantee,” he said.
At the elementary level, breakfast is $2 and lunch is $3, according to the district. At the middle school, breakfast is $2 and lunch is $3.25, while at the high school, breakfast is $2.25 and lunch is $3.
At the end of the board of education’s meeting Tuesday, board Vice President Natalya Lakhtakia expressed thanks to everyone involved with making the program happen.
“I know that each and every one of our students will benefit from this and I feel like it’s truly a triumph,” she said. “I look forward to New York State hopefully following our lead.”
Patton said the district will be advocating during the upcoming session for the state to help fund meals.
“Our families have greatly appreciated the support that has been provided for the past two years, and we know the importance of providing two healthy, nutritious meals to all students, so they are ready to learn,” he said.