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Summer meals questions raised

WEBUTUCK — The Webutuck Board of Education (BOE) met on Monday, March 5, to discuss several issues, including the use of school facilities by the North East Community Center (NECC) for their Summer Meals Program.Board member Kristen Panzer quickly identified herself as a member of the NECC Board and explained that she was not able to comment as a result of her dual positions.The Summer Meals Program is a state-funded Department of Education grant program that provides meals for children in need.The school board acknowledged a letter sent to them from the NECC requesting the use of Webutuck’s kitchen facilities.“It appears that at this point they are not asking for anything more than the use of our facilities,” said Business Administrator Mary Grden. “If the board wants to pursue this, I suggest that someone draft an agreement that outlines the terms and conditions with which they use the facilities — hours, staffing, insurance and what would happen if they do not live up to the expectations of keeping it clean. If we have to bring in someone from our own staff [it should state] that they would be billed,” she said.Jenny Hansell, executive director of NECC, clarified the specifics of the program after the meeting.“The program has been implemented by several schools but also has been done by outside agencies, such as in our case. We need a place that is certified by the NYS Board of Health to prepare bag lunches. Then we would take the lunches to where the kids are,” she said.Hansell also expressed that the NECC would accept full responsibility for the usage, cleanliness and replacement of any items, if needed.“We already have the insurance issue covered as we’ve worked with Webutuck before. We really want to get this program going and would absolutely make sure that the facilities are treated with respect and care,” she said.The board did have several questions regarding the program, which BOE President Dale Culver suggested be drafted into a letter to get the answers.“We should gather the questions we want answered tonight so that Mary can have that discussion and we can make a decision on this program in the very near future. Working with a program like any program we have here, the more time we have to work on it the better it runs,” he said.Board member Judy Moran interjected with several specific concerns.“I didn’t see that it specified exactly who was going to be served, whether it was only district residents or whether there were other people who were going to be coming in,” she said.After the meeting, Hansell said the grant will only pay out for the amount of lunches handed out, not created, so careful counts will be kept of each child receiving a lunch.“We don’t verify income or ask too many questions. The idea is to show up with the lunches and if a child is hungry, then they will get fed,” she said.Hansell also clarified that lunches would be handed out at summer recreation programs as many children who are in need of assistance tend to be enrolled in such programs.“It is also strongly suggested that we have an employee overseeing the program,” Moran said at the meeting. “No matter how noble this cause is, equipment has a limited life span. All of it belongs to the taxpayers of the district and I have a problem with opening the door to something that could shorten the life [of the equipment] or cause problems.”Moran said it might be better for the NECC to try to get assistance from a private facility.Board member John Perotti said there were issues specifically with the NECC.“Given the track record we’ve had with this organization and the use of our building, I think that if they did use our kitchen our personnel would have to be there,” he said.Panzer, growing visibly frustrated with the course of the discussion, stepped out of the meeting.Hansell addressed this issue after the meeting, saying, “I’m not sure what that comment meant. We have had great relationships with Webutuck and hope to continue to do so in the future. If there was a problem in the past I would be more than happy to address it,” she said.Culver steered the discussion back to his original proposal to draft questions and have them answered so a decision could be made. The issue was tabled until those concerns were addressed and the board could make a more informed decision.Hansell stressed that she is available to answer any questions and willing to do whatever it takes to get the program off the ground.“We now qualify for this grant because over 50 percent of our students qualify for reduced or free lunches. That shows that poverty is growing in our communities. It’s an issue people don’t like to talk about, but there are kids out there who need food and parents who don’t know how they are going to feed these kids over the summer. It’s an important program and I hope that we can work together to reach a solution,” she said.

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