SCSD1 mulls leaving food program


PINEDALE – A late addition to the Sublette County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees’ meeting took up the majority of discussion during the 90-minute gathering on June 9.

Board members and department heads addressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal student lunch program.

Last month the USDA stated that, in accordance with federal civil rights laws and regulations, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service program prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, age or reprisal for prior civil rights activity. That drew backlash from acting Wyoming State Superintendent Brian Schroeder.

Members of the SCSD1 board also took exception to the USDA’s non-discriminatory policy; however it was just one component of the situation. Board members previously discussed leaving the program about four years ago for a litany of reasons, including students’ appetite for the meals. Trustee Charles Prior recalled a moment his daughter had a chicken sandwich at home and said it tasted nothing like the sandwiches they get served in school. Others claimed massive food waste from students as a reason to possibly leave the program.

This latest announcement from the USDA and statement from the Wyoming Department of Education brought the topic back to the table. Vern McAdams, director of business and operations for the district, explained the rising costs of the program, although it would still be available to disadvantaged students for free or at a discounted rate. About 20 percent of the student body qualified for those reduced meals.

Leaving the federal student lunch program would likely be more expensive as the district would not receive food through a discounted federal rate, but would be on its own to acquire commodities from different vendors. Factored in with the reduced meals, the district would likely incur a much higher cost of the program. Heightened cost was one of the reasons the district backed away from leaving the program years ago.

Trustees agreed to not rush into leaving the program immediately. Supplies and goods associated with the existing breakfast and lunch program have already been purchased for the upcoming school year. Superintendent Shannon Harris said it would be a good time to look at the costs and not simply react to other factors. She said it would be beneficial to “take a chill pill” for a second while the WDE works with the state legislature to possibly create funding for school lunches, should the state want to opt out of the federal school lunch program.

Trustee Chris Nelson said there may come a time when the district would want to go on its own.

Board chair Jamison Ziegler said one benefit of going on their own would be to give more freedom to students in food choices.

“You can give the kids what they want,” Ziegler said. “If they’re hungry, great. If you’re a 200-pound football player that wants two cheeseburgers or if you’re a cheerleader and you just want the salad, great.”

While financials and student enthusiasm for food choice were brought up as factors of potentially leaving the federal program, discussion tended to return to the anti-discrimination aspect.

Harris also mentioned the possibility, because of the Wyoming Department of Education’s stance, that the state legislature could take action. A WDE release from June 8 argued the schools should not be forced to comply to non-discriminatory policy in order to receive funding. That same release reiterated the state superintendent’s position.

“While the superintendent vigorously pursues political and legal options to oppose federal overreach, the WDE will work to maintain the flow of federal funds to support children in Wyoming,” the statement read.

Acting Superintendent Schroeder issued a release on Wednesday urging citizens to reach local legislators to introduce a bill that would establish education funding outside of the USDA’s reach.

Following the board’s discussion of the USDA’s policy, the Roundup contacted Ziegler to ask if the board believes it has the right to deny equal education opportunities or food programs based upon student identity groups. The board chair did not return comment.

The board ultimately decided to continue enrolling in the national program while studying the logistics of going on its own and waiting for potential state government intervention. While forecasting potential outcomes, McAdams said it was a “road map of a road that’s not built.” 

Other items

The board passed a motion approving fixes to the Pinedale Aquatic Center roof with an added amendment that the district could pursue funding the entire roof work if it’s cheaper than waiting to complete the entire roof maintenance. Trustees approved the work for up to $400,000 in a motion.

Board members renewed the district’s dental plan with one abstention and renewed its contract with M&M Disposal with one abstention.

The board also created a head of maintenance position and assistant cheer coach position and approved changes to the definition of property taxes, which records taxes received by the county within 60 days of the end of the fiscal year.

Trustees gave blanket approval for certification contracts for Jeffery Maxam, Denise Sagers, John Snell and Kelsy Harder while accepting the teaching resignation of Emily Lucas and coaching resignation of soccer coach JD Dudrey.

Trustees approved two nonresident enrollment requests.

Board members also approved a policy change on second reading that would allow remorseful students the opportunity of a second chance following policy violations. There were also the approvals of coaches, transportation and student handbooks. All were unanimous except for the renewed student handbook, which Trustee Nelson objected.

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