2018-02-08 / Front Page

School District Pleads with Parents for Federal Forms

By Brooke Constance White

In recent years, the Newport School District has experienced a steady downward trend in receiving forms and applications from families whose students are eligible to receive federal funds.

Unfortunately, says Colleen Jermain, superintendent of schools, when families do not return forms for federal funds such as Medicaid, Federal Impact Aid and the National School Lunch Program, funding for a variety of programs and services falls squarely on the school district.

During the 2016-2017 school year, for example, school officials budgeted for $522,000 in Medicaid funding and only received $113,000, Jermain said.

While Medicaid is utilized in many districts as a reimbursement for students and families that receive special-needs services, Jermain said Federal Impact Aid is significant for a Naval base community such as Newport. The funds assist districts that have lost property tax revenue because of tax-exempt federal property, or that have children whose parents work or live on federal property.

The National School Lunch Program is another federal assistance program that provides funding for students at or below the poverty level, so they can receive free or reduced price meals. School lunches in Newport cost students $2.75 at full price, while they cost 40 cents at the reduced amount.

According to school committee member Becky Bolan, the Newport School District had more than 80 children who were receiving free or reduced lunches last year, but are now paying full price because new applications were not filed. Parents must submit these applications newly, each year.

The funding from these programs goes directly into the schools and helps provide services and programs to meet students’ needs, while the information supplied by students and families is kept confidential, Bolan said.

Carlos Coffey, the school district’s business manager, said that the information included on the Medicaid, Federal Impact Aid or lunch program applications is only used to leverage federal funds that support programs and services.

“Parents do not need to be afraid that giving out this information could affect their student negatively,” Coffey said. “It provides us with more funds and benefits for the students, the community and the schools.”

Although a decrease in parental compliance in all three of these federal programs translates to the district incurring more costs with less revenue coming in, the free or reduced lunch program is particularly near to Bolan’s heart as the school committee’s wealth and wellness subcommittee chair.

“We have to assume that things didn’t change in the [student’s] house,” Bolan said. “Although a few might not qualify anymore, it’s more than likely that the majority of those families still qualify for the program.”

Through what the district calls a “no-shame” lunch policy, all students receive the same meal, regardless of payment status. Because there are so many students who have not returned their forms but who still need the assistance, the district is incurring more than $20,000 in outstanding lunch bills. Although the district has the funds to pay off the debt through income made from students who pay for their lunches, Bolan said fewer funds will be left over for repairing and updating the district’s kitchen equipment.

“For all three of these issues, Medicaid, Federal Impact Aid and the lunch program, when there’s less revenue coming in, you try and work to collect more forms and say a prayer that revenue in other areas comes in or is higher than expected to offset the decrease in other areas,” Bolan said. “I don’t think it was on anyone’s radar until recently, but now we’ve got to make changes so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Jermain said the administration and staff across all three schools are encouraging families to return the forms.

“We’re trying to educate our families so they understand the importance of these forms,” Jermain said. “Whether that means house calls or phone calls or trying to catch parents at pick-up or drop-off [areas], we’re pounding the pavement trying to get these forms and applications back, and we’re hoping that our families will help us out with this.”

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