School meals deficit drops

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 05:50 PM

Capping student meal debt at $17.50 has helped reduce outstanding balances by half, school officials said this week.
Students in elementary and middle schools charged $122,280 by the end of December, compared with $283,304 in 2011. In previous years, charges totaled as much as $300,000 at this point in the school year and the district faced unpaid meal charges that averaged $500,000 annually requiring a transfer from the general fund to cover shortfalls.
When the $17.50 cap is reached, students must take a cheaper alternative breakfast of toast and water and an alternative lunch of up to four fruits and vegetables, a roll and water.
Officials want to reduce the shortfalls even more, but middle schools remain a challenge, said Angie Henry, district chief financial officer.
Students do not always use their special cafeteria meal tickets that identify them as needing an alternative meal because of an unpaid balance.
“Many schools in the district are having great success in following the new process. The data also reflects there is still room for continued improvement. We are working to identify ways to address some challenges we’ve faced and will continue to monitor the charged meal balances through the end of the school year,” Henry said.
Some parents don’t answer phone calls or get letters from the school system when their child approaches or exceeds the limit, according to the report. Henry said officials will try to address those issues in the year-end report.

Meal charges

Balances: 10,361 student meal accounts have outstanding charges and 2,054 accounts have charges in excess of $17.50, the limit on the amount a student can charge before an alternative meal is served. The average charged meal balance was $11.80 in 2012 and $26.29 in 2011. The average amount owed also dropped, from $26.29 to $11.80 per student.

Meals: Cafeterias have served 12,829 alternative meals this year.