Community resident John Stanbery urged the Cleveland Board of Education to reconsider its decision to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision program for the 2014-15 school year.
He described the program as the federal government “dangling a carrot out in front of us.”
The program will provide every child in the Cleveland City Schools system with breakfast and lunch at no cost to them or their families. The program pays no heed as to whether or not a child’s family can afford the two meals. It is believed more individuals in need will eat food provided by the cafeteria, if there is no way to tell who needs the help and who does not.
Stanbery was quick to inform the school board his words were not meant to be anti-child or anti-education.
“I am not here to discuss children who qualify for free and reduced lunch,” he said. “I am here to discuss children whose families earn too much, and subsequently don’t qualify for free and reduced lunch.”
Stanbery took a moment to thank the food service employees who work in the city system.
“I know they work extremely hard to try and make their budgets work and feed our children,” he continued. “However ... we are going to sign a federal contract with the U.S. government, and I think it will ultimately prove to be bad for the system, bad for the children and I know it will be bad for the taxpayers.”
He pointed out local taxpayers do pay for the program through their federal income tax.
“We are $17 trillion in debt in the federal government. When you graduate a child from this system, and we’ve done this, and you hand him his diploma, go ahead and hand him a coupon book for the loan from the Chinese banker that we borrowed the money from to pay for this,” Stanbery said. “Because you are saddling that child with debt that he probably will not be able to pay off in his lifetime.”
He suggested the school board instead find a way to utilize the funds, or funds in general, to finance a program that will target only the students in need of aid.
“Please think about this. If you want to show some real leadership, organize a coalition that tells USDA [the federal Department of Agriculture] to stop this waste of money,” Stanbery said. “Take the money and pay for the kids in the summer. The kids who really need it. They can’t eat in the summer. If you want to spend this money, spend it on a program that feeds them breakfast and lunch when they are not in school.”
Director of City Schools Martin Ringstaff said it has yet to be determined how much the program will cost the school system. He explained the cost will be zero from the school system’s current budget, if projections are met. If they are not met, then there will be an undetermined cost to the school system.
He said the school system’s goal in joining the program is to reach the students who are too embarrassed to sign up for free and reduced lunches. A trend shows student participation in the free and reduced program begins to taper off in sixth grade.
Ringstaff added, “We are sitting at 63 percent free and reduced. We believe we would be around 75 percent, if they would just fill out the paperwork.”
Board member Murl Dirksen said he believes it is a responsible use of money to feed the students, whether they are rich or poor.
Stanbery said he would sit down with Dirksen and plan out a program to feed children in the school system who are in need.
“This is about taking people who make $150,000, $200,000, $250,000 a year and providing free breakfast and lunch for their children,” he said. “Money is precious and it could do much more [if it is] channeled in the right direction.”
Board member Steve Morgan said the board will have to pick another fight that does not involve whether or not the students are fed.
Fellow board member Peggy Pesterfield added, “If we have to feed the other 25 percent who can afford it to make sure the other 75 percent are all able to work, to me it is worth it. I have seen children who are hungry. You can’t teach children who are hungry.”
Stanbery thanked the school board for their time and added, “I’m sorry, it is probably out of your hands. But I do know if you don’t participate, things continue as they are, the program stays in place. You don’t have to do this.”