All Silo Public Schools students, faculty and staff will be able to get free breakfasts and lunches this school year.
The school board voted unanimously earlier this month to provide the meals at no cost.
“We’re trying to take care of our kids and our employees, and we’re excited to be able to do this for Silo District,” Superintendent Donna Anderson said.
The most recent statistics showed 84 percent of district students qualified for free or reduced lunches. Anderson said a cost analysis determined the district’s maximum cost for providing all the free meals would be $35,000. That calculation was based on every student and teacher eating every meal served at the school, minus the figures for already free and reduced students.
“And you can supplement the Child Nutrition Program in many ways,” Anderson said. “You can do it as electricity you provide for the building, for example. But what I did was just make sure we had that money available in the general fund to supplement financially if that’s the way we need to do it.
“Perfect timing is what it was for me to be able to come in and make that change.
“There have been a lot of changes in our district,” said Anderson, who made the move this summer from Bennington to Silo. There’s also new high school principal Jeremy Atwood, middle school principal and softball coach Mike Lawless, SHS boys basketball coach Brett Frank and girls basketball coach (and SHS alum) Casey Strahan.
“We’ve had a lot of people leave and new positions. What I did was I made sure we won’t be replacing a teacher or support personnel; just a few positions won’t be replaced because we’re able to absorb them. That freed up some money to be able to dedicate to the people who are here.
“Teachers have really not been taken care of by the state for the last few years,” Anderson said. (She was a state superintendent candidate until battling a recurrence of cancer forced her to withdraw, but she said she’s doing well post-surgery.) “You can’t give them a raise out of the general fund, so you try to make the job a good job and give them any benefit that you can to try to help them out. And when you’ve got two or three kids in the system and you’re paying for breakfast and lunch every day, it really adds up, so it’s a really nice benefit.
“Along with it being a benefit, I want to make sure our kids get to eat, and I don’t want them to ever think that money is in the way of them getting breakfast or lunch. I want them well-fed. I want their brains working correctly when they’re in the classrooms and not hungry. A lot of our kids, when they come to us in any district, sometimes it’s the only good meal they get until they come back to us the next day.”
Most of the reaction to the decision regarding free meals has seemed positive.
More specifically regarding its funding, Anderson said some extra-duty assignments no longer being used were removed, and some extra-duty money already being paid was “scaled back a little bit in some areas.” She and the board ensured all activity areas were being covered and “made it work for the money” the district has, according to Anderson.
“I just made sure that the money was dedicated from some of the savings we’ve done just in personnel. I’m not going to say there’s a lot of savings in extra-duty stipends because I added Medicaid billing and a special ed director. Some of the savings we had [from decreasing] extra duties went to other places, so it may have been a push on the extra-duty schedule. But overall with salaries, we’re down, so we can focus that money on things that have got to be done for kids.”
Anderson is wearing a few extra hats herself, also acting as athletics director.
“I did tell the board [I would do that], for one year, in order to really try to unify our district, really try to make sure that we are making decisions and spending our money in a way the taxpayers can look at it and say, ‘You know what, they’re doing the right thing.’
“Nobody’s ever going to be happy with everything but at least they’re good, sound decisions and we’re working toward financial security.
“All of the things that we’re doing right now are just kind of laying the foundation to change some practices that maybe weren’t necessarily in our best interests financially or community-wise. So we have a goal and we have plans. And over a five-year term, what I plan to do is fix all the things that have maybe been put on the side-burner or not really looked at, and just try to do some good things for kids in the community at Silo.”
The district has long struggled to pass a bond issue, attempting multiple times in more than a decade. It also has been caught up in public scrutiny after, tragically, a freshman shot herself in February 2013 in the school parking lot and a former baseball coach was convicted this year for throwing balls at junior-high athletes.
“It’s been a very tough probably 15 months with the incident in the parking lot and the stuff that was public and in the news all last year,” Anderson said.
“The thing I’ll tell you about that is that every school district has their issues, and it starts at the top. You need leadership in there who will say, ‘Listen, we are all in this together, and we’re going to go forward together. I understand there have been problems in the past, but we’re going to look forward; we’re not going to dwell back there.’
“First and foremost, we’re going to make sure every student in our district is OK every day. If it weren’t for the kids, we wouldn’t be here.”
Anderson did say the district would be attempting a “much smaller bond package that is directed specifically at our transportation problem” and present as openly as possible.
“We are going to be going back to our public and saying we need a bond passed. It’s not going to be a building bond. We have some portable buildings that have been brought in that aren’t going to be permanent structures [but can be used for now]. Once I got in and started looking at everything, the biggest need we have right now is [transportation]. We are leasing buses and our lease is up at the end of next summer.”
Anderson noted that agreement is not a lease-purchase.
“We are not going to be doing that anymore,” she said. “Lease-purchase is fine, but to lease and have nothing at the end of it is, to me, not sound money management.
“So we’re going to be going to our district and saying, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s how it’s going to save us money in the future’ — just how we’re going to handle this bond money. We’re going to make sure the kids get safely to school and back to their houses. We need a driver’s ed car so those kids can be safe on the road and we can continue to provide driver’s ed, which we definitely need to do.
“Sometimes I think you can look at a mock-up and think, ‘Really what are you getting? Are you spending the money you already have in the best way?’ There are a lot of things, if you’re doing it correctly, you can purchase on your own, from your own building fund or general fund. So that’s my hope too, to be able to say to the community, ‘If you help us with the things we need, I promise you that the things we can pay for we won’t ask you for.
“We’ve got several areas that will have to be looked at. We’ve got some security issues that we’re taking care of kind of as we speak. We’re having an alarm system put in the gym. I had it re-keyed [Monday]. We had a lot of break-ins and people in the gym when they’re not supposed to be, so to get that taken care of was one of my first focuses.
“Also, we’ve got some air-conditioning problems. Any time you start talking about air conditioning, you’re talking about big money.
“It’s just going to take time, and every little issue that we have is going to be addressed. I’m going to work closely with the board. They have got fantastic historical knowledge of what’s happened building-wise and community-wise through the last five, 10, 15 years. Really, every single one of them wants the best thing for children. I think we all just look at things differently. But in the end, when we’re in a board meeting or a discussion, everything they say is geared toward the best thing for children, which gives me great comfort.”
Silo’s first day of school will be Aug. 21. Elementary enrollment is Thursday and Friday. High school pre-enrollment is set for Aug. 5-7.