The Fort Smith Board of Education Finance Committee voted to recommend continuing the Fort Smith School Districts free breakfast program at a meeting Wednesday.
Board member and Finance Committee Chairman Bill Hanesworth said he called the study session to get a better understanding of the financial resources that go into funding the school districts free breakfast program, which provides free breakfast for all students.
It was proposed at the last board meeting, and we didnt have any background information on (the program), Hanesworth said. It was just, Hey, weve done it for the last two or three years. Lets vote. Well, (board member) Wade (Gilkey) and I are both new on the committee, we didnt have any background, so I kind of said, Whoa, lets send it back to committee and lets have a committee meeting and get more information on the financing and how things are tied together and the participation and all that.
According to Hanesworth, the Fort Smith School District served more than 613,000 free meals in general during the 2015-16 school year. Of that number, 80.83 percent of them were served to elementary school students, 13.29 percent were served to junior high students and the remaining 5.88 percent were served to high school students.
Fort Smith School District Deputy Superintendent Gordon Floyd said a proposition for a free breakfast for all students program was brought to the school board about two years ago by Fort Smith School Superintendent Benny Gooden and Fort Smith School Child Nutrition Director Donna Turnipseed. The rationale behind it was that students would perform better in class if they started their day with a nutritious breakfast.
The year that Dr. Gooden and I talked about the free breakfast starting (2013-14), we had to increase the price of our meals, Turnipseed said. This was a federal thing. ... We said, Okay, in view of the fact that theres a lot of unemployment in Fort Smith and a lot of families in need, lets do breakfast free to kind of overcompensate for the fact that we had to increase the lunch price. Thats how it started.
Floyd said the Fort Smith School District paid more than $91,000 out of its operating fund to provide its free breakfast program during the 2015-16 school year. Turnipseed said free breakfast should continue to be provided to all children regardless of whether or not they are qualified to receive free or reduced meals from the school.
Just because a family does not qualify for reduced or free meals, we see a lot of children who do not eat breakfast and/or lunch because they dont have the money, Turnipseed said. From my standpoint, I think its a plus that we continue the free breakfast.
The finance committee voted to recommend that the board of education approve continuing the free breakfast program.
The Fort Smith Board of Education will next meet July 25.