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School lunch will no longer be free in Wrenshall, school board weighs options

As the district will no longer receive funding for free lunches for all students, the Wrenshall School Board began discussions on how to budget its food service program for the upcoming school year.

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Wrenshall School Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — The Wrenshall School Board discussed how to deal with the district not receiving funding for all students' lunches anymore, during a special budget meeting held Thursday, June 9.

In the past year, the district received funding to make lunches free to all students and Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro said it was a great thing to see so many students eating at school.

She added there had been proposals for funding to come from the state during the legislative session, however they will not be available for the next school year.

One way the district hopes to get meals to more students is by informing families about the free and reduced lunch program for those who qualify.

Belcastro said it can be a controversial topic because people have to include how much they make on the forms.

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Board Chair Misty Bergman brought up a point to get the information out to families sooner, so there isn't a shock to having to pay for meals this year and give them chance to sign up for the free and reduced lunch program.

The board was in agreement to get the information about the programs out to families as early as the end of July.

They also discussed the possibility of including a sign-up form in the district's publication.

Angela Anderson, the district's business manager, said while the food service fund of the projected budget is balanced, it isn't clear how many lunches will be purchased when students have to pay for them.

Anderson's update to the board during the meeting on the full budget still showed a general fund deficit of $345,000, however the latest enrollment numbers would change that.

The budget discussed by the board during the meeting used an enrollment of 348 students, while Belcastro said she is confident the next school year will have an enrollment of at least 360 students.

Belcastro said the "phone has started to ring" on families thinking about enrolling in the district and there are currently eight to 10 still interested.

Anderson said each additional student brings roughly $10,000 into the general fund.

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As she normally creates conservative budgets, the board agreed the next budget should be based on an enrollment of 356 students, to give some cushion to the numbers.

Anderson said, historically, an enrollment of 380 has been helpful to having a stable budget.

More information on the budget will be presented during the next meeting on Monday, June 13, when the board will vote on the budget.

During the special meeting, the board also got updates on the sports cooperative subcommittee meetings between the district and Carlton.

Board member Nicole Krisak, who is part of the cooperative committee, gave the entire board an update on where things stand.

Krisak said one of the new ideas that has come out of the meetings has been the thought of starting a baseball cooperative.

While the district did just purchase new uniforms, she said there ultimately would be savings as they would be able to use Carlton's facilities.

"I think it is a good idea, there are some savings there," she said.

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Unfortunately for the district, Krisak said there are not enough players to form a varsity football team this year, and they will have to focus on a junior varsity team instead.

Krisak added she heard some concerns with community members about starting cooperative agreements for volleyball or basketball because the district is currently building those programs up.

Board member Ben Johnson, who is also on the committee, said the discussions are just a starting point.

"We can go back and we can keep periodically looking at how we are doing," he said.

The plans are to hold more of the cooperative meetings in September.

The board also decided it will move back to either recording or livestreaming its meetings after members have gotten requests from the community.

The next meeting is planned to be held in the district's common area, instead of the library, to also take advantage of a microphone so those in attendance can clearly hear discussions.

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Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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