No student goes hungry at schools|
|No student goes hungry in the Antigo School District.|
That’s the goal of the food service program, which wrestles daily with keeping youngsters fed while keeping their lunch accounts up-to-date in a sometimes challenging fiscal climate.
Food service practices came to the forefront recently, when the Salt Lake City School District was taken to task by legislators and the public after 30 elementary school students had their lunches thrown away because their electronic payment accounts were delinquent. The students were given milk and fruit instead.
Utah school officials said it was all a misunderstanding, due in part to miscommunication between parents and the district, coupled with a new electronic payment system.
Terry Hilger, the district’s food service director, said that while there are certainly glitches from time to time, a similar scenario should never happen here.
“I don’t feel that’s a real problem in Antigo,” Hilger said. “Most parents seem to be very responsible to make sure children have money in their accounts or have a lunch sent from home.”
For the past decade, Antigo food service has used an automated accounting system, similar to a debit card, for school lunch payments. Through the district’s Infinite Campus portal, Families “load” the account, using either cash, a check or credit card, and daily lunch charges are deducted. They can also check balances daily.
Parents are informed through e-mails, telephone calls and letters if the accounts go into arrears, and problems are usually short-lived and relatively minor. Parents may give their child a $20 bill for example, and tell he or she to give it to the office to put on the account, only to have it end up elsewhere.
Accounts are generally brought up-to-date when they are only a few dollars, perhaps $35 at most, overdrawn. Occasionally, there are larger amounts incurred and write-offs when transient families leave the district, and their school charges, behind.
“We try not to let it go too long,” Hilger said. “Otherwise, we’ll have parents ask us, ‘why didn’t you let me know sooner?’ Parents want to know. They don’t want the balance to get so negative they just can’t pay it.”
In some cases, Hilger said she will send parents an application for free and reduced-price lunches.
Hilger said the actual procedures vary from site to site, with slightly different practices followed at the elementary, Middle School and high school levels.
That doesn’t mean there are not consequences. If accounts show negative balances, students are told as they go through the line that they should bring money from home, or a bagged lunch, the next day. But if they don’t, they are still fed, usually a sandwich.
Problems with delinquent accounts may also be less severe at Antigo than elsewhere due to the sheer numbers of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches due to their family income levels. Hilger said 49 percent of students here receive their lunches at no charge to their families.
“Some school districts, with lower percentages than us, may have more problems than we do,” she said.
Hilger said that with the close attention the district pays to the program, mid-year deficits are mild, unlike districts such as nearby Merrill, which is contracting with a collection agency to attempt to recover thousands of dollars in delinquent food service accounts. Merrill officials said that school’s deficit is in the neighborhood of $36,000.
Hilger said Antigo currently has a deficit of about $2,200.
“We stay on top of things,” Hilger said.
For students who do not receive free or reduced-price meals, school lunches cost $1.95 per day at the elementary level; $2.20 at the Middle School; and $2.45 to $2.60 at the high school.
Kathy Fermanich, left, and Kathy Straw prepare lunch at Antigo Middle School.
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