After a very long period of fiscal chaos at the state level just about every town and city is looking for ways to tighten its belt.
It isn’t just the dollars that have local officials chewing their fingernails as they attempt to balance their books; to a great extent it’s the uncertainty, month after month and year after year, about how much money will be coming down the pike from Hartford.
“We’ve heard so many ups and downs, you’d have a coronary if you reacted to everything you’ve heard,” said John Leary, the chairman of Southington’s Board of Finance.
Despite the challenges, the Wallingford Board of Education is considering starting a breakfast program in the elementary and middle schools next school year. (The two high schools already serve breakfast.)
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that’s being done to see whether it’s even viable,” said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo. Wallingford stands to lose a net $2.6 million in state aid for the coming fiscal year, under Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Feb. 5 Deficit Mitigation Plan, and that comes on top of substantial cuts that hit the present fiscal year.
Wallingford is an outlier, locally, in that Meriden, Southington and Cheshire already offer breakfast in all their schools. And research indicates that eating breakfast can improve children’s attention spans and reduce behavior problems, but some children leave the house in the morning without eating breakfast.
Federal reimbursement under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs follows a complicated formula and varies depending on a school system’s percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals. In Wallingford, that is about 22.3 percent, up from 18.7 percent in the 2013-14 school year.
But there will still be a cost to the town; this school year, in the “contiguous states,” the federal payments are: $1.75 per free breakfast, $1.45 cents per reduced-price breakfast, and 30 cents per paid breakfast.
Given that there are children coming to school each day without an adequate breakfast, extending this program to Wallingford’s middle and elementary schools would be a good thing. As always, though, it comes down to finding the funding.