PINEDALE. The belated addition to the Sublette County School District #1 board of trustees meeting was the focus of discussion during the June 9 90-minute meeting.
Board members and department heads reached out to the USDA and the federal student lunch program.
Last month, the USDA said that under federal and civil rights laws, the USDA Food and Nutrition Services Program prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation) , disability, age. or reprisals for previous civil rights activities. This drew backlash from Acting Wyoming Superintendent Brian Schroeder.
Board members of SCSD1 also objected to USDA’s non-discriminatory policy; however, this was only one component of the situation. Board members had previously discussed leaving the program about four years ago for a variety of reasons, including students’ appetite for food. Trustee Charles Pryor recalled the time his daughter ate a chicken sandwich at home and said it tasted nothing like the sandwiches they were served at school. Others have argued that students’ massive food waste is a reason for eventual withdrawal from the program.
This latest USDA announcement and a statement from the Wyoming Department of Education have brought this topic back into the discussion. Vern McAdams, the district’s director of business and operations, explained the increase in the cost of the program, although it will continue to be available to students from low-income families for free or at a discount. About 20 percent of students are eligible for discounted meals.
Exiting the federal student lunch program is likely to be more expensive, as the district will not receive food at a reduced federal price, but will purchase items on its own from various suppliers. Given the reduced meals, the district is likely to incur much higher costs for the program. The increased cost was one of the reasons the county withdrew from the program years ago.
The trustees agreed not to rush to leave the program immediately. Supplies and merchandise related to the existing breakfast and lunch program have already been purchased for the upcoming school year. Superintendent Shannon Harris said now is the time to look at costs and not just react to other factors. She said it would be helpful to take a “chill pill” for a second while the WDE works with the state legislature to possibly create school lunch funding if the state wants to end the federal school lunch program.
Trustee Chris Nelson said there may come a time when the county wants to act on its own.
Board chairman Jamison Ziegler said one of the benefits of self-study would be to give students more freedom to choose their food.
“You can give kids what they want,” Ziegler said. “If they are hungry, fine. If you’re a 200-pound footballer who wants two cheeseburgers, or if you’re a cheerleader and just want a salad, great.”
While finances and student enthusiasm for food choices have been cited as factors in potential exit from the federal program, discussion has tended to revert to the anti-discrimination aspect.
Harris also mentioned the possibility that due to the position of the Wyoming Department of Education, the state legislature might take action. A June 8 WDE press release argued that schools should not be forced to comply with non-discrimination policies in order to receive funding. In the same issue, the position of State Superintendent was confirmed.
“While the Superintendent is vigorously pursuing political and legal options to counter federal abuse, the WDE will work to keep federal funds flowing to support children in Wyoming,” the statement said.
Acting Superintendent Schroeder on Wednesday issued a release calling on citizens to petition local legislatures to introduce a bill that would place education funding outside the reach of the USDA.
Following the board’s discussion of USDA policy, Roundup contacted Ziegler to ask if the board considered it right to deny equal educational opportunity or nutrition programs based on student identity groups. The chairman of the board did not respond to the comment.
Ultimately, the board decided to continue participating in the national program while looking into the logistics of self-employment and pending potential intervention by the state government. Anticipating possible outcomes, McAdams said it was “a roadmap for a road not yet built.”
The board passed a proposal to approve the roof repairs to the Pinedale Aquatic Center with the added amendment that the county may continue to fund all roof work if it is cheaper than waiting for all roof maintenance to be completed. The trustees approved work up to $400,000.
Board members renewed the county’s dental plan with one abstention, and renewed M&M Disposal’s contract with one abstention.
The Council also created the position of chief of technical services and the position of assistant support coach and approved changes to the definition of property taxes, according to which taxes received by the district are recognized within 60 days after the end of the financial year.
The Trustees gave full approval to the certification contracts for Jeffrey Maxum, Denise Sagers, John Snell and Kelsey Harder, accepting the resignation of Emily Lucas as an instructor and the coaching resignation of football coach J.D. Dadry.
The Trustees approved two non-resident registration requests.
Board members also approved a policy change on second reading that would give repentant students a second chance after policy violations. There were also endorsements from coaches, transportation, and student handbooks. All were unanimous except for the updated student handbook, which was objected to by trustee Nelson.