Paying for school meals on Monday’s Board of Education agenda

Published 12:07 am Sunday, August 21, 2022

SALISBURY — A national issue has landed on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education’s agenda for discussion on Monday.

The board is looking for an update on school meals after federal waivers that let every school district in the country offer universal free meals expired in June. The waiver originated in March of 2020 when schools across the country closed, including every public school in North Carolina via an order from Gov. Roy Cooper.

The waiver was extended for the 2020-2021 school year and later through 2021-2022, but no extension came after classes wrapped up for the summer this year, so many students are back to paying for meals.

Ten schools still get universal free meals through special community waivers, and many students get free or reduced lunch in other schools. Reduced lunch prices are free this year as well because the state sed aside money to pay the difference for those students.

RSS Nutrition Director Lisa Altmann said free and reduced applications are flowing in now that paid meals are back in schools.

How do free and reduced meals work?

Families have to fill out an application to qualify for free or reduced lunch. There are some automatic qualifiers like receiving food stamps or Medicaid assistance.

The state also set aside some funding to cover the difference between free and reduced lunch, so fewer families have to pay.

The nutrition department is organized as its own enterprise and is reimbursed directly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For everyone else, including those who may qualify for assistance but have not turned in an application yet, they have to pay.

The district has a policy that students without free or reduced lunch can charge three meals, which turns into meal debt the nutrition department tries to collect, though Altmann said that often is not possible.

The district won’t deny a student a meal, even after those three are charged and the school counts it as an “alternative meal” the district does not get reimbursement for. Altmann said ultimately the district has to cover uncollected debt and alternative meal costs.

 The district recorded more than $4,500 in student debt since classes began Aug. 10.

Each school maintains an account so the public can help pay student meal debt. Those began before the COVID-19 pandemic but have been unused while meals have been free.

The meeting will begin at 4:30 p.m. at Wallace Educational forum and can be viewed online at

In other agenda items:

• The board will consider a disposal resolution as part of the closing process on the sale of the former Enochville Elementary School to Piedmont Baptist Church. The sale amount is $600,000.

• The board will consider changing its November and December meetings to single dates on Nov. 14 and Dec. 12.

• The board will consider hiring a new local attorney for bond forfeiture issues, which the town’s attorney currently handles. The district’s current attorney for bond forfeiture issues is Chris Sease, who will not be able to continue that role as he is about to become a district court judge.

The board’s counsel, Raleigh firm Tharrington Smith, will recommend hiring Ryan Stowe of the Salisbury’s Stowe Law Firm.

A portion of this story was included in Friday’s e-edition of the Salisbury Post.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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