School Lunch Charges Add Up for Some Districts: Charging Policies in the Works
School districts serve thousands of meals each year but some student’s food accounts are in the negative numbers.
The state wants districts to develop formal policies on dealing with the debts while still feeding young minds.
When money runs out on a student’s food account more meals get charged.
Joplin food service director Rick Kenkel said, “From last year, we have right at thirty-five hundred dollars of negative account balances.
A nd some of that happens when a fam i ly becomes free and reduced. And they don’t pay their old charges.”
To better deal with those debts, districts are needing to create formal food charging policies for the state. So Carthage is making some changes. Food service director there, J aneane Myrhe said, “In the past, it’s been three dollars. Now it’s five dollars. That’s one of the changes we’ve made.”
That’s for students all ages, district wide.
Webb city and Joplin allow elementary students 10 dollars in charges. But like most districts, only allow one day’s charge for junior high and high school students.
The charges give districts time to contact parents, something they intend to improve. Joplin has new software to send out emails and Carthage will shift away from notes written by cashiers to robocalls.
Myrhe said, “Now it will just be automatic. Once the account goes into a negative balance, they will get a phone call or you know (contact) however they want to receive that information, via email.”
Webb City’s superintendent says the district is trying something new that may help parents avoid overcharges on lunch. He said,
“We’re trying, this year, universal free breakfast which is grab and go. So every child, doesn’t matter if on free and reduced lunch, doesn’t matter full pay or not, every child will have the ability to come in and have breakfast for free throughout the district.”
The school district piloted the grab and go breakfast program last spring. During a two day period, breakfast at the high school went from thirty to three hundred participating.
Rossetti said nutrition is critical. “If they’re hungry, they’re not gonna be able to learn.” R ossetti says federal reimbursements for free and reduced breakfasts are currently covering the cost of the grab and go for all.
When students reach a charge limit, they typically get an alternative lunch which is often a simple sandwich. Districts hope to avoid that as it often appears as punishing the student.
Kenkel added, “We don’t have access to punishing the parent. It’s the poor child standing in line that gets that cheese sandwich or a little embarrassment. We don’t want to do that. We took the job to feed the kids, not to withhold food from them.”