No charge policy began in 2008 creates discussion

The Augusta USD 402 Board of Education held the annual reorganization and election of officers at the beginning of Monday night’s monthly meeting.
Bob McCalla was elected president and Bill Rinkenbaugh was elected vice president.  Both have formerly served in the positions.
The new business item drawing the most discussion was the review on student meal charges.
Superintendent John Black presented the current policy to the board.  He reminded them the policy was created in 2008 due to $5,000 of unpaid meals.  The deficit was growing each year even with the availability of the federal free and reduced lunch programs.  At that time, the board approved a “no charge” procedure to prevent the deficit from expanding and approved sending accounts to a collection agency.
“Since this procedure was implemented the balance has been reduced,” Black advised.
The following steps were implemented in 2008 to see that students are able to eat and parents are notified of existing balances:
1.  Students with $5 or less in their account are given a low balance written notice to take home.
2.  Parents may sign up for automatic notifications through their child’s PowerSchool account.
3.  A phone call is made by the food service clerk to the parent if a student signs up for a meal but does not have enough in his account to cover the cost of the meal.  The notification occurs in the morning prior to lunch being served.
4.  Secretaries will also call when the food service clerk has been unsuccessful in reaching the parent.
5.  Free and reduced meal forms are made available to families who qualify.
If a student goes through the line and picks up a meal and does not have sufficient funds to pay for the meal, the food service clerk has been instructed to ask for the meal back and offers the student a meal of cereal and milk.  The meal is set aside and later disposed.  The disposal of the meal is required because of proper food handling procedures.
“Food service costs are covered by the food service fund and not subsidized by the general fund.  Parents and students don’t expect to receive free food at a cafe, convenience store or restaurant,” Black stated.
“I don’t think it’s like that at all,”  board member Matthew Blank objected. “We can call those parents and let them know their kids are out of money...the thing is I can picture a kid going through line and have to give up the tray - it’s nothing like a parent at a store - these kids are under our care. Why do we punish them for their parent’s mistake? It’s wasteful and sinful and nothing but wrong. If it goes unpaid and gets crazy, just call a collection agency.”
Board member Jim Brown asked, “Is there a way to figure out if they don’t have money before they get the meal?”
Black explained with the food service’s point of sale system, the account information doesn’t show up until the food on the tray is entered into the system.
Board member Andy Hall advised he had spoken to an El Dorado BOE member and was told they allow the kids two to three meals before being cut off.
Kim Braungardt, BOE member, said, “Let them eat that day, maybe the teacher can catch the situation before they eat next time. Food is being thrown away - just let them eat it.”
Brown explained due to privacy rules the food service personnel are not allowed to discuss the students’ accounts with teachers.
“I understand that it makes no sense to take a meal and throw it in the trash. It’s wasteful, but what happens the next day if the account isn’t paid?” Rinkenbaugh asked.
“Have the school secretary notify the parents.  Sometimes rules just don’t make sense when it comes to privacy...could lunch aides make notes of who needs money for the next day and avoid embarrassment for the student?  Maybe the secretary can call the parents and make arrangements,” Blank said.
Braungardt agreed, “You know we let kids on the field who don’t pay - we can’t let kids eat?”
“I’d like for us to explore every option.  I don’t know the answer, but we need to have more conversation on this matter,” Rinkenbaugh continued. “We need to do something that won’t embarrass the student. Eventually they will have to pay, but it’s important to protect the kids.”
Black advised he would  come back with options and attempt to address all of the concerns.
“I understand that you’d like to see the money issue addressed before the student gets in line and is embarrassed - it’s good that  you are thinking of the student,” he said. “Our staff is protective and some of them actually pay for these lunches. Many on staff are compassionate.”
Other business
The board approved the purchase of 104 Google Chromebook laptops at $42,016 for the elementary school’s computer labs.  The purchase is part of the rotation process of existing laptops.
Both Blank and Braungardt expressed objection to not being able to see the specifications and bids from other vendors.
Black advised he would forward that information to them.
Special meetings
The board will meet at 5 p.m. July 28 for approval to publish notice of a hearing for the 2014-15 Budget.
The board will also met at 5 p.m. Aug. 25 for setting board goals.

Belinda Larsen can be reached at