Ridgefield schools audit finds fault

Unqualified pupils may have received free, cheaper meals

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Ridgefield schools may have given out meals for free or reduced prices to students who don’t qualify for food assistance, according to a state audit report.

The State Auditor’s Office released its report Thursday on the district’s assistance programs for breakfast and lunch. It showed that in the 2011-2012 school year, the district failed to follow the correct procedure for verifying the students’ eligibility for the programs, possibly opening the doors for unqualified students to get free or cheaper meals.

The district has since corrected the oversight, according to the report.

The state mandates that each year, districts select a sample of applications for food assistance to verify whether students meet the eligibility requirements, which are based on a family’s income level and household size. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction provides instructions for the verification process.

Students eligible for reduced meal prices can get a lunch for 40 cents and breakfast for 30 cents under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. For public school students eligible for reduced prices in Washington, the state pays all lunch costs for grades K-3 and breakfast costs for those students in grades K-12.

In 2011, 754 of the district’s 2,234 students applied for free or reduced meals, according to the state superintendent’s records. About 100 fewer students applied for food assistance the next year. Applications dropped once again to 627 in 2013.

The Auditor’s Office did not immediately have figures for how many unqualified Ridgefield students may have received assistance with their meal costs.