Cleveland City Schools Hears Criticism Of Free Lunch Pilot Program

Gears Up For The Next Phase Of New Gym Project

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - by Tony Eubank
Dr. John Stanbery
Dr. John Stanbery
- photo by Tony Eubank

The Cleveland City Schools Board of Education took time to hear some criticism over their recent decision to use federal Community Eligibility Provision funds. Local Republican leader, Dr. John Stanbery spoke briefly and passionately about what he sees as a federal overreach and inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. Dr. Stanbery said that the federal contracts attached to the CEP are difficult to understand and being used to push an agenda beyond feeding children.  

“I am not here to discuss children who qualify for free and reduced lunch," said Dr. Stanbery. "I am here to discuss children whose families earn much too and subsequently don’t qualify for free and reduced lunch. I believe that the program that we are signing up for is the federal government dangling a carrot out in front of us.

“We’re going to sign a federal contract with the U.S. government and I think that it will ultimately prove to be bad for the system, bad for the children, and I know it will be bad for the taxpayer. My main concern with this and a lot of people that I’ve talked to, is that this is just fundamentally wrong. It’s the wrong thing to do,” said Dr. Stanbery.

Dr. Stanbery augured against that idea that the stigma of being a recipient of a free lunch being much of a concern, “My son currently goes to Walker Valley, nobody knows who pays what at Walker Valley. They have an account system, they walk up they give a number, their food is paid for and nobody knows whether the federal government put money in that account or the adult. So there are ways to keep these kids from being stigmatized without paying for everyone else,” said Dr. Stanbery.

Dr. Stanbery continued, stating that he bristled at the school system’s statement that no local tax dollars would be used to pay for the program, adding that federal tax dollars are local tax dollars,

“Because unless I missed something, residence of the city of Cleveland pay federal income tax. So this is local taxpayer dollars involved in this,” said Dr. Stanbery

Dr. Stanberry said that the U.S. government is $7 trillion in debt and that we are saddling our children with debt that they probably won’t be able to pay off in their lifetime. Dr. Stanbery also compared the school systems acceptance of the CEP funds to looting the American taxpayer. Dr. Stanbery also attacked the idea that Cleveland schools could opt out of the program if it does not work for them, by stating that once you have a federal program, that it is almost impossible to get rid of.  

“It’s an unfunded mandate because you’re also signing up for all of Michelle Obama’s rules and regulations for the food. Several governors wrote a letter when this bill was fist passed saying that federal funds accompanying it are short term and likely inadequate to fully cover the state costs. A USDA analysis found that the law will spike the cost of food inspection by food service programs by 67 percent,” said Dr. Stanberry.

Dr. Stanbery additionally stated that the program will increase the costs of lunches for middle and upper level income families in order to pay for the increase in regulatory costs, and thus causing the public to have to essentially pay twice for the program. Dr. Stanberry also expressed concerns that students may not be able to bring their lunch to school, as the funding for the CEP is tied to the amount of lunches served and lack of participation could cause a loss of funding. Dr. Stanbery also questioned the new nutrition standards, claiming that they actually could hurt nutrition in schools. “Lastly, If Michelle Obama walked into and she asked you to fund this out of your local budgeted money, would any of you vote to do it? And if the answer to that is no, don’t you owe the federal tax dollars we pay the same due diligence and the same stewardship,” said Dr. Stanbery.

Board member Dr. Murl Dirksen asked what the program is costing the school district. Director of schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff said that it yet to be determined and in a perfect world it would end up costing zero from the current budget, but if they don’t hit projections it would cost the school system some money and this is where the one year opt-out comes into play. Board member Steve Morgan asked what the ultimate goal of the CEP is. Dr. Ringstaff responded, saying that as students get older and enter middle and high school they tend not to apply for the free and reduced lunch program, although they do qualify. The goal here is to make sure that kids that do qualify are being fed.

“Do you know how much money we give to Egypt for FMF (Foreign Military Financing) last year, $1.5 billion?" asked Dr. Dirksen.  "I think we feed our kids, whether rich or poor. I’m in for kids eating and learning. I think that’s responsible.”

Board member Richard Shaw spoke on the new nutrition standards stating, that the government is trying to teach our children to eat properly and that it is a good thing. Dr. Stanbery questioned when the government regulation would end, asking the board just how much control over the lives of their children are the willing to turn over to experts in Washington.  

Steve Morgan echoing some of Dr. Stansbery’s concerns said, “Unfunded mandates are not just a federal issue, but a state issue.  Last month we tweaked the wording and verbiage wording of something that we just passed, where they were trying use school lunches of children to pass an agenda.”

Dr. Stanbery stated that the program is a waste of money and that it could be made better use of via other channels. Dr. Dirksen argued that one foreign aid package could pay for all American students’ lunches, to which Dr. Stanbery said, “Then lobby for that, but don’t justify this program which is an expanse of federal control into our lives.”

Dr. Stanberry continued to rail against menu choices, stating that he finds it offensive that Michelle Obama’s children, who attend private school, have a wider choice of food options, while his son who plays football struggles to get enough calories to support his athletic endeavors. Mr. Morgan added that he doesn’t care what the Obama children are eating and stated, “When we’re able to feed children that aren’t to get fed otherwise, all politics aside, at this point you’re going to have to pick another fight.”

Board member Peggy Pesterfield said that she has seen hungry children in school and that you can’t teach a hungry child. “If we have to feed the 25 percent that can afford it to feed the 75 percent who can’t, to me that’s worth it.”

Ms. Pesterfield also stated, “If we have children that cannot get the food that they need, we need to go ahead and take the year to see how this program works, if it doesn’t work we can look at another way to do it.”

Bryan Templeton from the Upland Design Group updated the board on the progress on the Raider Dome demolition and suggested a timeline for the beginning of the next phase of the new gym project. Mr. Templeton stated that J&J contractors are about a week behind on the project, but that would not cause a major delay in the overall project, and delays of this type are not abnormal for a project like this. A Motion to approve RFQ (Request for Qualifications) committee of Dr. Ringstaff, Hal Taylor, Melinda Carroll, Peggy Pesterfield, and Dawn Robinson was passed by the board. The purpose the RFQ committee is to narrow down the number of potential bidders for the project by thoroughly vetting each prospective contractor, so that only the most experience and qualified may have the opportunity to bid on the work. Mr. Templeton said that this is the step that needs to be taken before, construction can begin and that will help the school system best determine what contractor or contractors should even be allowed to participate in the competitive bidding process. Board member Dawn Robinson added that this process worked quite well when the district built the science wing at Cleveland High. The board has set a tentative date of Aug. 28, for the beginning of the competitive bidding to begin for the construction of the new gym.

From left,  Dr. Martin Ringstaff, school board chair Tom Cloud
and Board members Peggy Pesterfield and Richard Shaw
From left, Dr. Martin Ringstaff, school board chair Tom Cloud and Board members Peggy Pesterfield and Richard Shaw
- Photo2 by Tony Eubank

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