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System antes up to feed students

With one school year now behind them, members of the Carter County Board of Education began looking ahead to the next by approving several new programs for the school system.
One of the first new programs for the upcoming school year will be the county’s participation in the federally funded Community Eligibility Program. It is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is aimed at reducing child hunger.
The Board voted unanimously to join the CEP on for all of the K-8 schools on a trial basis for one year to determine if the program would work for Carter County.
“I think there are just so many positives about it,” said Director of Food Services Marissa Potter. “My managers are excited. They are on board.”
Potter had spoken with the board previously during a workshop session about the benefits of the program. During the workshop Potter said the program is “participation driven” and that based on the numbers for the 2013-2014 school year, the program would have lost $44,000 for the county. However, she said at that time, she felt that a loss could be avoided by working together with school officials to get more children participating in the school meal program and by providing more opportunities for children to eat breakfast at the schools.
During the Board’s meeting on Thursday, Potter said she had been working with County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach to crunch the numbers on the program and they were able to determine the $44,000 figure was inaccurate.
“We were gambling on $44,000 and we were all in favor of it,” Potter said. “It’s not that good of news. It is actually more like a gamble of $170,000. That is the worst-case scenario, the absolute worse-case scenario.”
Potter said there is still a lot of information that is not known about how the program will work for Carter County because the program has never been implemented in Tennessee. She also said that several local school systems, including Elizabethton City Schools, adopted the program this year as a trial.
“There is just no way for me to know because this is our first time in Tennessee and there is just no one for me to ask how it worked,” Potter said.
Deloach told the Board that even if the program were to lose money, there is enough money available in the Food Service budget’s reserve fund that could cover the loss for one year.
“The only thing that allows us to look at this for one year is that Marissa has been a very frugal manager,” said Director of Schools Kevin Ward, adding that he did not think the program would face a loss of that much money. Ward said his recommendation to the Board would be to approve the program on a one-year trial basis.
Board member Kelly Crain voiced his support of the program. “To me it’s not a gamble. If we have a chance to feed every school child then we should,” he said. “That’s just the way I feel, but I’m only one of eight.”
Ronnie McAmis, chairman of the Board, also spoke favorably of the program and also of needs of children in the community.
“You would think in this day and time that kids wouldn’t go hungry but they do,” he said. “There are children who go hungry when they are not in school.”
Members of the board also approved a “Memorandum of Understanding” agreement between the school system and the Carter County Sheriff’s Department that would put an additional seven School Resource Officers in the schools alongside the six already in place. That would bring the total number of SROs up to 13 officers serving in 15 schools.
As part of the agreement, the school system will supply offices and basic office equipment to the officers as well as providing the Sheriff’s Department with $250,000 in funding to pay officer salaries as well as cover the costs of training and equipment for the officers. Deloach said the money will come from state funding that was allocated to the school system to improve security measures.
“It was allocated through the BEP (Basic Education Program) formula so the chance of it being pulled is very slim,” said Deloach in response to a concern from the board that the funding would be withdrawn by the state at a later date.
Also approved for the coming school was a one-year contract with Integrated Care Professionals for the development of telemedicine clinics in the county schools. The agreement was for the term of one year in order to determine if the program worked for Carter County.
The telemedicine clinic system uses the Internet and Web video chat technology to link the nurse and patient in the school to a nurse practitioner who can work with the nurse to diagnose and treat the patient on site – rather than having to send the student or staff member home from school to seek treatment on their own.
At a workshop held in May, members of the board heard from a representative from Integrated Care Professionals who touted the program as a way to improve attendance as well as improving the health of the students and staff.
In other business, the board approved several end-of-the-year budget amendments as well as approving the line item budget for the 2014-2015 school year. Also approved were coaching supplements for a new boys tennis program as well as boys and girls soccer programs at Happy Valley High School. The board also approved the installation of new marquee signs at all four county high schools. Unaka High School’s baseball field will also be getting new lighting following a donation of $15,000 by a county resident.