School board approves lunch rates as federal program providing free lunch expires
By Justin Scrimshire
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Here’s to you Mrs. Fox, your time spent teaching me during my senior year in economics wasn’t totally wasted. It’s also a lesson that parents are about to learn the hard way as the USDA free-meal waiver, a federal program that covered the cost of public-school breakfast and lunch is set to expire this month.
If no action is taken by the federal government to continue the coverage that has existed throughout the covid pandemic, the responsibility of paying for student breakfast and lunches will return to the parents. The Okemah School Board voted 5-0 during their monthly meeting on Monday, Aug 8, to resume the $1.50 breakfast and $2.00 lunches for students, which were the same prices parents were paying pre-pandemic.
Okemah public schools is recommending that parents fill out a free/reduced meal application as quickly as possible to see if they qualify for aid that could help offset the cost of the meals. Applications can be accessed at any of the school sites or requested by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angie Warren, who is an administrative assistant with Okemah Public Schools said the applications could take up to three days to process and encouraged all parents to fill out the application as quickly as possible to be ready for the new school year. Okemah Schools have a “no-charge” policy, meaning all meals must be paid for in advance.
During the meeting, Superintendent Lee Vick addressed the board about the upcoming school year. “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to what they consider normal,” said Vick about what school life would look like post-pandemic.
Vick continued that his priority and that of school staff would be ensuring that the physical needs of students would be met as much as possible, including a clothes closet to ensure that students had clothes and coats throughout the school year. Vick also highlighted the importance of providing emotional support as well as re-acclimating students to the socialization and public interactions that occur in school, a much-interrupted process over the past few years.
Vick also stated that school safety was a high priority for the 750 anticipated students in the Okemah Public School system. To that end, a new security system in the interior and exterior of all school sites had been installed over the summer as well as an intercom system that connected every school site in the event of an emergency. “I can push that button and address everyone at the same time, regardless of what site they are at,” said Vick.
Vick also informed the board of an increase to insurance coverage for district employees as insurance costs rose to $177,000 this year. “We’ve seen a $60,000 increase over the past two years, and I’m being told we’ll probably see another $15 to $20,000 increase next year. There’s only one insurance provider in the state and they know it,” said Vick.
Vick also stated that while 23 new hires, including an academic coach to help the kids who have “fallen through the cracks” have positioned Okemah Public Schools to have a solid faculty core, he was still looking for teacher support in the middle school. “We’re being conservative with the budget in anticipation of hiring a few more teachers to help with the middle school,” said Vick.
The board also voted on agenda items in anticipation of the upcoming school year, including the waiving of the usage fee of the middle school basketball gym and football field for Okemah Little League. Superintendent Vick stated that no one had approached him yet about the usage fee, but he felt it was important to be proactive on the matter as he was certain it would need to be addressed in the coming weeks.
Other items approved by the board included the permissible sanctioning of Okemah booster clubs, including the Band Booster, PTO, FFA Booster Club, Girls Swish Club, Boys Swish Club, Panther Pride Athletic Booster Club, and Pig Skin Parents.
To help keep the clubs out of any legal entanglements, the board asked Superintendent Vick to send out a letter to each club informing them that an Okemah district employee or coach should not be the single facilitator of the activity funds of that booster.
The board also approved the hiring of Chance Dean as an adjunct teacher for Oklahoma History, Darin Duncan as an adjunct teacher for Government, Chauncey Goff as an adjunct teacher for Psychology, Travis McMahan as an adjunct teacher for Speech, Drama, and Humanities and Valerie McMahan as an adjunct teacher for Humanities.