LUMBERTON — There is such a thing as a free lunch.
In Robeson County, almost 20,000 students in the Public Schools of Robeson County receive either a free lunch or one at a reduced cost, and there is a possibility that number could grow.
Erica Setzer, the school district’s chief finance officer, on Tuesday presented the Board of Education with information about a national program that provides free meals to schools in poor communities. According to Setzer, the school system is a good candidate for the program because more than 40 percent of the district’s students receive some form of government assistance.
Setzer said that participation in the program could mean a revenue gain for the district as it compensates the school for every meal served and also could reduce expenses. She said all students at all schools could be eligible, except those attending Robeson Early College High School.
The program would mean the system would no longer have to collect individual applications for free and reduced price meals. Currently, of the 24,000 children in the Public Schools of Robeson County, 83.68 percent receive free or reduced cost lunch through the program.
“The (Community Eligibility Provision) program will obviously benefit our children as we anticipate increased participation for lunch,” said Tommy Lowry, an assistant superintendent. “It will be advantageous financially as the district will be reimbursed for every meal at the highest federal rate regardless of the child’s status. That will increase revenue.”
School officials say the program could help the district cut costs by eliminating the application process, which would eliminate the hiring of temporary employees to do that work.
The school board did not make a decision on whether the system should apply. Setzer will provide more information at its May meeting, including how it would affect the system financially.
Superintendent Johnny Hunt seems sold.
“I can’t begin to tell you the ramifications that would have on our school system,” Hunt said. “Just the logistics alone. When we get more information, maybe we can move forward. If there are no catches, I’d recommend we move forward with it.”
Hunt has missed the last two meetings following surgery. During his absence, Lowry had acted as interim superintendent.
On Tuesday, the board voted during closed session to give Lowry a $5,000 bonus for his work as interim superintendent. But Lowry politely declined the offer.
“I appreciate it, but I really wish you wouldn’t do that,” Lowry said.
In other business:
— The board heard an update from Assistant Superintendent Linda Emanuel regarding the upcoming summer school classes.
— Educator Regina Hyde offered a presentation praising the Sandhills Leadership Academy.
— Fairmont Middle School’s Beta Club was honored.
— A financial report was heard and approved.
— The board did not agree on whether to continue to contract with Colonial as the life insurance and dental benefits provider for the district’s cafeteria employees. The board decided to delay the decision and take solicit other bids.
— The board approved a decision to continue the district’s contract with Toshiba copiers.