WARWICK, R.I. — The Warwick School Committee adopted a revised school free and reduced lunch policy Tuesday and amended its budget request to ask for an additional $7.7 million above last year’s allocation.
The Committee’s original policy of serving SunButter and jelly sandwiches to students with unpaid lunch accounts made national news. The Committee voted to end that policy last week, delaying a vote on further updates to the policy until Tuesday’s meeting.
The updated policy reads, in part:
“The Warwick Public School District and the Food Service Vendor encourage parents and guardians to prepay meals for their children thereby eliminating situations that could develop during lunchtime over money owed. Prepayments for lunch and breakfast can be made via check or through the online payment website. Cash and check payments will continue to be accepted at each school, however, payment made through the online payment system is preferred. Adults do not have charge on account privileges. Meals must be prepaid or be paid for at the time a lunch is requested. Parents must submit a new lunch application yearly at the start of each new school year. In addition, throughout the course of the school year, when household income changes, parents should submit a new lunch application. Applications can be submitted at any time and are available during registration, the lunch office and through the individual schools, as well as on the district’s website. Free/reduced applications will also become a part of all paperwork provided to families of students transferring into Warwick Public Schools.”
Committee Chairman Karen Bachus said the changes to the policy were necessary.
“We would have had ‘food shaming’, we would be teaching waste and irresponsibility. We don’t want to do that. We need to model good citizenship and good behavior.”
Bachus said the district had been offered $20,000 in donations to the school lunch program from the hosts of the CBS show, “The Talk.” CBS Studios donated another $20,000.
Committee Member Kyle Adams thanked the show’s stars, which include Sheryl Underwood, Sharon Osbourne, Eve, and Sara Gilbert for their “generous contribution.”
Bachus noted Osbourne was “horrified we were going to starve children or punish them. That was never our intention.”
Angelina Penta, the owner of Mike and Gel’s Pizza, had attempted to donate $4,000 to help resolve the school lunch debt problem but was turned down. A GoFundMe donation page was also set up to raise the entire $77,000 lunch debt owed by students’ families. Since then, the Committee has also created a new policy to spell out how to accept such donations.
The school committee also agreed to reduce their 2020 budget by $779,747 Last month, the committee had approved a budget of $174 million which required a local contribution of $8.5 million. The committee now intends to seek an additional $7.7 million from the city for the budget.
Part of that reduction was enabled when Anthony Ferrucci, the executive director of finance and operations, recommended reducing the district’s annual pension contribution. The committee voted to reduce the contribution from $1.8 million to $1.2 million.
The committee also approved the restoration of $20,000 in funding for the summer school program. Ferrucci noted the program, was important for seniors who need additional time and credit to graduate.
In other news, Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick teachers’ union, criticized the committee for eliminating business classes in the new budget.
“It makes no sense in this day and age,” said Netcoh, who was also upset over cuts to art programs and the layoff notices sent to kindergarten teachers.
“It seems the district is nickel and diming these positions,” Netcoh added. “I think a closer examination of all these classes needs to take place.”