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Federal grant to help health department

DeKALB – On a day when the DeKalb County Board of Health saw reductions in its proposed budget for next year, the announcement of a six-figure federal grant was welcome news.

Nancy LaCursia, school health coordinator for the DeKalb County Health Department, presented an overview of how a $112,000 We Choose Health grant would help bolster school nutrition efforts in the county during the Board of Health meeting Thursday.

The grant will work in conjunction with existing programs such as Pioneering Healthier Communities and help establish and expand wellness teams at county schools such as DeKalb School District 428, which is the first district that will be targeted with the grant.

“We’re all tugging on the same side of the rope when it comes to children’s health,” she said of how the grant would help existing programs.

Andria Mitchell, principal at Tyler Elementary School, said programs such as fruit and vegetable bars at lunch have made a difference and was happy to see more support coming in the area of nutrition and fitness.

While those two areas will be the main focus, LaCursia said the grant also would help in mental and emotional health, safety, sexuality and drug education. She said she hopes to expand the program into Sycamore schools and Sandwich High School, which already has expressed interest.

In order to receive continued funding, the county will have to reapply each of the next three years after the initial 13-and-a-half-month period.

After hearing about the federal grant, the board reviewed the proposed budget for next year, which included a drop in its tax levy from $470,000 to $425,000.

The crux of the conversation focused on the rising cost of health care for county employees and how the new high-deductible plan could lead to some additional savings, as that line item is expected to increase from $366,000 to $384,000 in the department next fiscal year.

Paul Stoddard, D-DeKalb and a member of the board, said the county board is hopeful that 20 percent of county employees will switch to the high-deductible plan as that would make the program cost efficient and could lead to savings in the future.

“We felt it was a worthwhile experiment,” he said.

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