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Divided Wood County board OKs free school meals

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Starting today, all Wood County School students eat breakfast for free.

A divided Wood County Board of Education approved a free meals program Tuesday, providing free breakfast for all of Wood County’s public schools and free lunches for students attending Title I schools.

The board voted 3-2 to approve the program for the next year, with board President John Marlow and member Jim Asbury voting against.

The Community Eligibility Program, which begins today, will provide free breakfast for students throughout the district and free lunches for students at Title I schools. Those schools are VanDevender Middle and Emerson, Fairplains, Franklin, Jefferson, Kanawha, Madison, Martin, McKinley, Neale, Waverly, Worthington, Mineral Wells and Gihon elementary schools.

The board has debated the program on several occasions and has rejected similar plans several times in the past. Wood County Schools officials say they believe the program will increase breakfast participation among students, which will improve student nutrition and academic performance, and could save the district upwards of $96,000 a year.

Marlow, who has vehemently opposed the program in the past, reiterated his issues with the CEP Tuesday evening.

“I don’t believe it is fair and equitable to all students in the county,” he said.

Marlow moved to amend Tuesday night’s vote to require any savings from the program go back into the district’s food service department to lower the meal cost for students at non-Title I schools.

Food Service Director Hollie Best and Superintendent John Flint said those savings won’t be known until the end of the year and will depend on student participation.

“It’s a sliding scale,” Flint said. “It’s not going to be until we operate and see how much we save.”

Marlow’s amendment died for lack of a second.

Asbury also argued against the program, saying officials would feel obligated to continue offering free meals at the end of the year even if the program does not generate savings.

“There is an opt-out program after one year,” Best said.

“It’s easier said than done,” Asbury said.

Best said parents at the participating schools will no longer be required to file paperwork concerning their finances in order to have students participate in the program. Officials still plan to address a nearly $1 million unpaid meal bills debt and will review the district’s collection policies in December.

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