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Audit: Ferndale schools used wrong formula for meal eligibility

Local yogurt, blueberries and granola await students during Taste Washington Day Sept. 28, 2011. Ferndale schools used an incorrect method to calculate student eligibility for free or reduced-cost meals for the 2014 school year, according to a state audit, but the district says it has since fixed the problem.
Local yogurt, blueberries and granola await students during Taste Washington Day Sept. 28, 2011. Ferndale schools used an incorrect method to calculate student eligibility for free or reduced-cost meals for the 2014 school year, according to a state audit, but the district says it has since fixed the problem. The Bellingham Herald

The Ferndale School District may have given free and reduced-price meals to ineligible students between September 2014 and August 2015, according to the state Auditor’s Office.

The mistake came after the district used an improper method to determine the eligibility of students to get the cheaper meals based on their families’ incomes.

Mark Deebach, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and support services, said the mistake stemmed from an influx of students in the district applying for free and reduced-price meals. Because of the increase, the district should have switched to another method to determine eligibility, but that change didn’t happen, Deebach said.

$1,012,635 Amount from School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs to Ferndale schools in fiscal year 2015

The district, the audit said, received about $1 million from the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs, both of which are federally funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Though the finding says a mistake like this could affect the district’s eligibility to receive federal funding, such a penalty is rare, said state Auditor’s Office spokesman Adam Wilson.

The finding did not indicate that any funds were misspent, just that an improper method was used.

The district acknowledged the issue in a response included in the finding. Officials said they would review the verification process to ensure the proper method is used in the future and provide more training to staff.

“It was one of those things that all the stars aligned and it didn’t get picked up on,” Deebach said, noting the Auditor’s Office did not question any costs associated with the mistake. “It was strictly just the wrong testing method we used.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

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