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Unpaid lunch charges force change at Springfield Public Schools

Students without lunch money, now only have a limited number of times they can charge it

March 06, 2013|by Lauren Pozen, KSPR News | lpozen@kspr.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Overdue lunch money will now determine what type of meal your child gets at Springfield Public Schools.

Any parent knows kids forget their lunch money, but at what cost to a school district with nearly 25,000 students?

"Our charges had been in access of $78,000.  The district started working at what could be put in place to curb that," said director of Nutrition Services Wanita Watts.

Currently, close to 500 students have outstanding lunch balances more than $50.

Students who don't have money to pay for their lunch now only have a limited number of times they can charge it.  Elementary students who do not have money to pay for their lunch are only allowed to charge it two times.

Middle and high school students only once.  Once a student reaches the maximum number of charged lunches, they will get a deli lunch box.  Until that balance is paid off, a hot meal is not an option.  The school notifies parents of any outstanding balances.

"There are charge slips sent daily in the elementary schools and weekly in the secondary schools," Watts said.

Tara White thinks schools should warn parents when their account is close to zero with an outgoing phone call.

"If my kid has lunch at 11:20 a.m., how are they going to remember at 8:20 at night when we have homework?  That is the last thing they are going to remember, 'Hey, mom I need money,'" White said.

School officials say parents do have the option to log on to Mealpay Plus for updates on account standings.

"It is free of charge, just to view the students account to see where they are at or if they owe money or just how much is on their account," Watts said.

Since the new system has been in place, the outstanding balance in the district is down to $61,000.  If left unpaid, the school absorbs it.

"That just cuts down of what equipment we can buy for the cafeteria, programs we have for students. so it does effect the district," said Watts.

There are no penalties for parents who do not pay any outstanding balance.  However, the district is looking into penalizing high school students.  Those with outstanding balances may not be eligible to buy tickets to school dances; that is one option the district is considering.

Breakfast will continue to be served at no charge. If your family qualifies, you can apply for free or reduced cost meals. Applications are available in every school office or can be completed on-line at https://horizon.sps.k12.mo.us.

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