AUGUSTA — Four Augusta Public School lunch staff members had to be laid off as the free- and reduced-lunch program saw a dip in its meal count.

Because the program is funded through federal and state money, if the number of meals served declines, so does the amount of money that the school system receives to serve and distribute them.

As a result of the declines in Augusta’s meals, three full-time and one part-time worker were laid off. The school board discussed the layoffs at Wednesday night’s meeting. The eliminated positions have saved the district $55,000.

Maureen Thompson, Augusta Public Schools’ director of school nutrition, said the hybrid-learning schedule is likely the reason for the decline in the number of students participating in the program.

“Because students are in school half the time, less meals are served and fewer students are taking advantage of the meal deliveries, even though they are free,” Thompson told the school board in a Feb. 1 meeting that was reviewed Wednesday night. “The drop in participation has resulted in a drop of revenues.”

The drop has largely come in the lunch program. According to data shared Wednesday, during January 2020, 13,620 breakfasts were served and 22,789 lunches; in January of this year, 11,195 breakfasts and 11,489 lunches were served.

“From the beginning of the school year through January, roughly the numbers are cut in half,” Thompson said.

Thompson said snow days and vacations can “make a difference” in meal participation rates, she said, which was reflected in November and December’s meal count.

“We are reimbursed by participating and the number of kids eating is what funds the program,” she said.

In the 2018-2019 school year, 351,947 meals — including breakfast and lunch — were served, while in 2019-2020, when the district was first impacted by the coronavirus, 316,877 meals were served.

Lunch pickup is available for students on days they are not learning at school. Or, students can be sent home with three days worth of meals, depending on their hybrid cohort.

Thompson said some people use the daily pickup option, but most ask for multiple meals to be sent home with their children.

In the event of inclement weather, buses are able to deliver the meals to students three times a week, giving them enough food to either last through the weekend or the week, depending on when they receive the package and their learning cohort.

As a result of the participation decline, Augusta received $104,244 less in federal funding in 2019-2020 than it did during the 2018-2019 school year. Though the district had $101,011 less in expenses between those two school years, its spending for the meals program is higher than its revenue, and it lost $70,001 in 2019-2020.

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