School board talks meal price increase, federal grants

It was a quiet Tuesday evening at the back of the School Board and Central Office Annex.

In less than two hours, Williamsburg-James City County Schools’ board members wrapped up discussion on a half-dozen topics with few questions asked. Votes on the night’s items — increasing school meal prices, awarding a bid for Lafayette High School’s auxiliary gym — are expected to be on the June 20 agenda.

Lafayette Gym

HBA Architects won the contract to design Lafayette High School’s much-anticipated auxiliary gym little more than a year ago. In two weeks, the School Board will decide who they want to build it.

The division’s senior director of operations Marcellus Snipes gave an overview of the free-standing gym, which will be 10,900 square feet and connected to the main school building by a canopy.  

Bids for the project’s $3 million price tag were due May 30 and detailed vendor information will be available before the board’s vote, but were not available Tuesday night.

Half of that $3 million comes from the fiscal year 2017 capital improvement plan and year-end funds from fiscal year 2016, and the rest are supplied by Williamsburg and James City County, the division’s chief financial officer Christina Berta said.

The board is expected to vote to award the contract at their June 20 meeting.

Federal Grants

Each year, the division applies for grants from the federal government to support educational efforts aimed at low-income students. Title I, II, and III grant applications are due to the Virginia Department of Education by July 1 and must be approved by the school board before then. 

The K-12 grant program provides resources including staff positions aimed at bolstering disadvantaged students.

The division’s applications total $1.7 million for fiscal year 2018, about $100,000 more than last year, according to school board documents. The totals are derived from federal formulas based on numbers of low-income students in each school, among other factors, director of accountability Scott Thorpe said.

Seven of W-JCC’s nine elementary schools are eligible for some Title I funding.

Board chairwoman Kyra Cook asked Thorpe if the division expects grant funding to decrease in the future, with potential funding cuts to the U.S. Department of Education. President Donald Trump’s full education budget released last month calls for a 13.5 percent decrease in education spending. Congress is responsible for passing a final budget.   

“We can’t speculate on that, the guidance we received from the state department is to apply for the grants as normal,” Thorpe said.  

He said if the grant program is cut, the division will evaluate schools’ programs and try to provide as much as possible with any funds they get.

Virginia High School League

The board also has to approve each high school’s membership renewal to the Virginia High School League, which includes sports and activities like debate and scholastic bowl.

This year fees are $800 per school with $35 extra per varsity activity — a $5 increase over last year. The league also requires catastrophe insurance, according to School Board documents.

Fees for each school are taken from their operating budgets. Lafayette’s fees total $4,300, Jamestown’s fees are $5,300 and Warhill’s are $4,000.

Lafayette and Warhill will be keeping the same activities, while Jamestown will have four fewer. Debate, film festival, student publications and girls golf were left off of this year's application. 

Debate and film festival were due to a lack of interest, school spokeswoman Betsy Overkamp-Smith said. Yearbook, part of student publications, will continue separate from VHSL and girls compete with boys golf, she said.

School Meal Price

Prices for breakfast and lunch may change next year.

A 10 cent lunch price increase and 5 cent breakfast price increase is up for debate Tuesday night. The federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 reimburses schools for meals — both for students who are deemed to be able to pay and those on free and reduced-price lunch.

The law requires school lunch prices to be more than the difference in reimbursement rates — 38 cents for paid lunches and $3.24 for free ones, according to board documents. The division’s lunch prices — $2.60 for elementary, $2.70 for middle and $2.85 for high schools — are less than that $2.86 difference.

The increase would bring breakfast prices to $1.35 for elementary, $1.45 for middle and $1.55 for high schools.

Breakfast prices don’t have the same balancing rule as lunch prices do; those prices are increasing because costs have been rising. Supervisor of Child Nutrition Services Jane Haley said this is the second year in a row breakfast prices have risen.

Before then, they had remained stagnant since 2008. She said in the meantime, food and labor costs have increased, so prices needed to follow suit.  

“We have a delicate balance there to cover our costs as well as make our meals affordable,” board member Jim Kelly said. “I know that’s a very complicated formula and situation to deal with.”

Kelly clarified that the division doesn’t make money off of the meals, prices reflect operating costs.

The board is expected to vote on the proposed change at its June 20 regular meeting.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette