Pine River-Backus School District: Free T-shirts available to families who fill out annual form

COVID-19 free lunch program had unintended consequences for school district

prb school sign
Echo Journal file photo.

The Pine River-Backus School District missed out on approximately $300,000 in state compensatory funding in part because of the free lunch and breakfast program that started with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district is prepared to offer shirts to families who fill out the annual free and reduced lunch applications even though they aren't necessary for free meals this year.

According to information presented to the board during its Monday, July 19, regular meeting, that compensatory funding is traditionally available to the school district based on the results of free and reduced lunch applications. The results of the forms are used to gauge the financial state of the families in the district, which traditionally qualifies the school district for funding.

When lunch and breakfast became free throughout the state, the number of families completing the applications plummeted and the district budget took a large hit with the loss of compensatory funding.

It is not uncommon for families to fill out fewer applications when free meals become available to students without the applications. Families do not necessarily connect the forms with the district budget and deem the applications unnecessary.


A drop in applications also occurred in 2016 when the elementary school was approved for the federal Community Eligibility Provision, which allowed the district to offer free lunch to elementary school students for five years based on the number of direct certification students receiving benefits through other county or state assistance programs.

At that time, 65% of PR-B Elementary School students qualified for free and reduced lunches. The program started in 2014 and was slated to continue for five years. By 2016, the reduction in free and reduced lunch applications had cost the district $160,000.

Those who fill out applications will receive Pine River-Backus Tiger T-shirts. The district is hoping the incentive will keep the applications rolling in, even though they aren't necessary for free lunches for the time being.

In other business Monday, the board hired Tom DeMars as varsity football coach; Rob Johnson, Mike Dinnel and Conner Guetter as assistant football coaches; Mike Lupella and Mark Gonnion as junior high football coaches; Joshua Hirschey as varsity volleyball coach; Liz Dahl and Ben Kinser as assistant volleyball coaches; Tim Ramler as boys cross country coach; Jordan Ackerman as girls cross country coach; John Riewer as a physical education teacher; and Jill Berntsen for a clerical position.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

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