ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA) — Lunch debt has reached nearly $300,000 for the Rogers school district. Now efforts are focused on getting parents up to date with unpaid balances. One mother said she didn’t even know her daughter had a negative balance reaching hundreds of dollars.
Jennifer Poole’s daughter was a student at Eastside Elementary. She was eating breakfast and leaving with a lunch from home almost every day. Poole said she was surprised to find out her daughter had a balance at all.
“She was taking lunches to school…But she was also given lunches at school as well..so they were allowing her to continue to get lunches without my knowledge and that is how she racked up the large bill,” said Poole who doesn’t think the school did enough to contact her before the balance got out of hand. “I found a letter in her room that was only given to her instead of being sent to the residence by mail or a call.”
The Rogers school district has a lunch debt of just over $242,000. It spans over 6 years maybe even longer because the unpaid debt rolls over each year. Sharla Osbourn with the district said it also includes active and inactive students. The lunch program is self-funded through money collected from purchased meals and the reimbursements from the approved free and reduced lunches.
A letter was emailed to the parents of nearly 6,000 students to reinforce its policies and let parents know their current lunch balances. “That letter was just to raise awareness for parents to partner with us to ask your child what is your balance.. do you have a lunch balance and offering them a way to check that balance,” said Osbourn.
The district plans to teach parents how to use the school cafe program to check lunch balances and make payments. Elementary school students will receive account balances weekly or biweekly at school. The letter also explained the district’s commitment to providing meals to students but it is adding some limits. Students with an outstanding balance will no longer be allowed to charge extra food items.
“We are not going to turn away a child from a hot meal, but if there is a negative lunch balance we will be putting measures in place to restrict purchases of a la carte items,” said Osbourn.
Poole said she will keep track of her daughter’s lunch balance from here on out but wished the school notified her sooner. “I completely believe in not letting a child go hungry but at the same rate, they need to make sure the elementary schools are sending out adequate notices and being more proactive about it.
The district said it is working with parents who have outstanding balances. It is also reminding families about the national school lunch program that provides reduced or free lunch for low-income families.