Butte County School Districts Provide Options for Student Meals

Butte County School Districts Provide Options for Student Meals
Ava Cerrantes enjoys a snack during the after school program at Stanford Avenue School Monday afternoon.

By Barbara Arrigoni, Oroville Mercury Register

With a new school year underway, food service employees are busy throughout Butte County putting breakfasts and lunches together to serve hungry students. But how do the children get those meals? Who pays? Who doesn’t?

Food service directors at districts in Chico and the Oroville area provided some answers last week.

“Most schools in the county typically do the same thing,” said Patty Norton, food services director at Palermo Union School District.

At most districts, there are three options for students: qualify for free or reduced-cost meals through a federal program, pay full price or bring your own food.

Parents are sent packets that contain applications to the free and reduced-cost meal program. The program is based on the number of people in a household, income and other information.

Some school districts, such as Thermalito Union Elementary School District, qualify for a new national program called Community Eligibility Provision, where all students receive meals free. Others have some campuses under a similar program called Provision 2 that allows all students at those sites to eat at no cost.

In some cases, children can charge meals, but with guidelines. Chico Unified School District and Palermo District now offer opportunities for parents to prepay and track their children’s transactions online through My School Bucks, a secure online payment system.

No districts will turn down a child who doesn’t have lunch, officials said, but there are policies in place for that too.

At Chico Unified, the policy allows students to charge up to three meals, according to Food Director Vince Enserro. If the youth hits the charge limit, he or she is offered an emergency meal that consists of a cheese sandwich, salad or garden bar and milk.

“None of our students are ever refused a meal,” he said.

Chico Unified serves 8,000 to 9,000 meals a day plus snacks for the after-school program.

The district keeps track of student charges through personal identification numbers.

Meal costs at Chico schools for elementary grades are $1.50 for breakfast and $2.65 for lunch. Middle school grades pay $1.75 for breakfast and $2.85 for lunch.

Although Oroville City Elementary School District has similar options, there is difference at some schools, according to Food Director Paul Mabie.

Mabie said schools are all under the same standards and have to be reviewed every three years.

Four schools in Oroville City Elementary qualify under Provision 2. Those sites are Bird, Oakdale Heights, Wyandotte and Sierra Del Oro schools.

At the Provision 2 schools, there is no cost for meals, but there is a lot of administrative work.

Provision 2 is based on the number of students who qualify every year for reduced cost or free meals.

Meal service at Ophir, Stanford, and Central and Ishi Hills middle schools fall under the free and reduced-cost programs, full pay, or bring-your-own options.

OCESD does not have a prepay system online, but children can pay for a week or a month in advance through an account.

“For kids who don’t have a lunch or money, we try to accommodate them as best we can,” Mabie said. “Usually they have some money on their account.”

Like Chico, OCESD students who pay can charge up to three times.

Oroville district meals are $1.30 for breakfast and $2.30 for lunch for kindergarten through sixth grade, and $1.55 for breakfast and $2.55 for lunch for middle school grades.

The district averages close to 1,800 meals a day and provides After-school program snacks.

Palermo Union serves about 1,500 meals a day under the main federal program. The district also provides snacks for the After School program.

“If the students don’t qualify for free and reduced, the option would be full pay or bring your own,” said Norton, who recently joined the district.

No Palermo schools fall under the Community Eligibility Provision because the district hasn’t applied for the grants yet.

Palermo breakfasts cost $1.50 for elementary and $1.75 for middle school grades, and lunches are $2.25 for elementary and $2.50 for middle.

Students won’t be turned away if they don’t have money or food. The three-charge policy is the same as at Chico and Oroville districts. When children reach the limit, there will be a complimentary cheese sandwich, fruit or vegetable and milk.

“We hope it’s a one-time thing,” Norton said. “We like to work with our parents. It doesn’t happen often where we have to call parents.”

Students at Thermalito Union School District don’t pay for any meals, according to Food Services Director Karen Williams. The entire Thermalito district recently qualified for the Community Eligibility Provision. All children eat breakfast and lunch free because the district is in an area with a high percentage of students who qualify for the free and reduced meals.

That means the district no longer has to do a lot of paperwork or keep track of how much students owe.

“Not anymore, thank goodness,” Williams said. “Kids just come to school and don’t have to worry about not having money or their parents being called. A lot more students are eating lunch because they don’t have to worry.”

Menus, account guidelines and other information about school district nutrition programs are at the district websites.

Contact reporter Barbara Arrigoni at 896-7767.