Conewago Valley school board approves budget, passes resolution supporting free school meals

The Conewago Valley school board approved its final 2023-24 school budget and supported a statewide push for free school meals during the board meeting on Monday evening.

The district’s $75,377,800 budget for the 2023-24 school year was tentatively approved on May 8 but finalized during Monday’s meeting.

The budget maintains a 1% income tax, 0.5% tax on real estate transfers, $5 per capita tax per person, and 5% amusement tax, all unchanged from last year.

A real estate tax of 15.6691 mills will generate about $35,874,635 for the district, according to the summary provided by the district. Occupation taxes will generate about $60,000.

“School Meals for All”

The board passed a resolution supporting Pennsylvania Senate Bill 180 and PA House Bill 180, “School Meals for All.”

If approved at the state level, free meals will be offered for all students regardless of family income.

The district’s resolution states that “the past few years have highlighted just how much families rely on school meals to keep their children fed,” adding that universal meals help not just students but teachers and schools.

“… Multiple studies show that students with access to free breakfast have improved attendance rates, better attendance in school, improved participation rates, fewer behavioral incidents, lower suspension rates, and better health outcomes,” the district’s resolution states.

Conewago Valley experienced an increase of 164% in breakfasts served each day compared to the amount served before Pennsylvania offered free breakfasts to all students in 2022-23.

In the resolution, the district also argues that making families go through the process of documenting their financial need is “burdensome” and that districts should not face debt collection for unpaid meals.

Families currently must pay $21.25 per week, or $765 per year, to maintain daily school breakfasts and lunches for each student they have enrolled in the district, according to the resolution.

“With universal school meals, that money is able to be spent on other essentials or spent in the community, thus helping local businesses thrive…” the resolution argues.

In Conewago Valley alone, the district estimates $2,902,410 would be kept in the local economy if the bill is passed.

The resolution further states that offering universal breakfasts and lunches would “remove the stigma” free meals are associated with and remove the district’s financial burden of higher food supply chain costs from families. It would also allow the district to allocate more principal, teacher, and school food service staff time to other duties instead of spending it on paperwork for free meals.

PA Senate Bill 180 was sponsored by Pennsylvania Senator Lindsey M. Williams. It was referred to the education committee on March 9.

PA House Bill 180 was sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Emily Kinkead. It was referred to the education committee on March 23.

Other business

The board approved hiring new staff members, including a new assistant principal and curriculum director.

Christen Manari was approved as the new assistant principal of Conewago Valley Intermediate School. Manari will begin on July 1.

Charles Trovato was hired as the district’s director of curriculum. Trovato bill begin work on Aug. 14 or when released from a previous position.

Dr. Brad Sterner, assistant superintendent for the district, summarized the district’s progress with its math and library science curricula writing. Sterner said the teachers and curriculum leaders involved will work on writing curriculum this summer.

Dr. Sharon Perry, the district’s superintendent reflected positively on the past school year.

“Everything that we set out to do this year we’ve done and then some,” Perry said. “We are well-aligned to our comprehensive plan, so all of our actions the board is taking, our administrators are taking, and the direction that our teachers are taking: we’re seeing the impacts of those decisions based upon the activities our children and how they’re growing academically and physically, emotionally and otherwise.”

Perry also expressed relief with the “normal” school year compared to other recent years affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I couldn’t be more proud to partner with the district and to see the growth and achievement of the district throughout this very normal-feeling year this year,” Perry said. “That’s quite enjoyable that we’ve been able to bring back the majority of our activities. It has, I believe, further strengthened our resolved understanding how important it truly is to provide these wonderful experiences for our students.”

Two individuals spoke during the time for public comment. One asked about a club using school facilities while the other questioned reading material and discussed the Bible.

Before the meeting, the board held an executive session to discuss personnel matters.

The board will hold a study session at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 10. A regular board meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

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Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.

You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.

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