The Park Rapids School Board decided Nov. 19 to offer free breakfast and lunch during December to all students whose families submit a properly completed application for free or reduced-rate food service, whether they qualify or not.

Business Manager Kent Fritze told the board this could cost about $2,500 a day or $12,000 a week, if every student who currently pays for lunch had their meals for free. More realistically, based on a normal week, Fritze expected it to cost about $4,100 a week.

Board discussion stressed the importance of the free/reduced lunch application for state funding formulas. Fritze estimated that the district’s revenue could increase $5,599 per student whose family submitted the application – meaning it would take only three students applying for lunch aid per week for the incentive to pay for itself.

Board chair Sherry Safratowich stressed the importance of completely and correctly filling out the application, noting that a printout showing the assistance was denied, with a parent’s signature at the bottom, won’t affect the school’s state funding revenue.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad responded to a perception that the paper application is difficult to fill out. He said there is an online application at that he was able to fill out in seven minutes.

Board member Gary Gauldin moved to approve the plan, and it passed with no dissent.

Student activity fees

Gauldin also made a motion to waive participation fees for all student activities, retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

Safratowich and board member Steph Carlson proposed the idea based on their discussion in the district’s finance committee.

Safratowich said she thinks waiving the fees may increase student participation.

Carlson advocated the move, at least on a trial basis, because it will help families. She argued that the district’s participation fees are high compared to neighboring districts.

Asked whether the loss of revenue would hurt the district, Fritze said, “We’ve got a healthy budget. We can pay the light bill.”

Based on last year’s participation fee revenues, Fritze said, the move would cost the district approximately $53,000 for the year. About half that much has already been collected and would be refunded.

“What we’re doing here tonight is, we’re looking at our students and our families, and being able to offer a benefit for all students and families,” said Bagstad.