Since cutting off the free lunch program last November the Floyd County School system has seen a drop in lunch participation rates and a rise in unpaid lunch bills — which is now cumulatively over $26,500.
Donna Carver, child nutrition director for FCS, showed board members Monday night a 26.2% drop in September lunch participation from last school year to now. Meanwhile, the system is in the hole for unpaid lunch costs.
“There is only so much we can do,” Carver said.
The issue has come up at previous board meetings and all board members agreed the solution should not be to deny students food.
The system currently offers a free and reduced lunch program where parents can submit an application to see if their children qualify. The application can be filled out on a phone or computer and was also offered during online registration.
However, the issue is parents just not paying their kids’ lunch bill, Carver said. The school system goes deeper into the red each month. A spreadsheet from Monday’s meeting showed a $7,000 increase in unpaid lunches from September to October.
The school has tried to contact parents with high lunch bills, however parents will just block the FCS phone number. On top of that, parents who then block the school’s phone number won’t get county school alerts, warnings or other general information, said Lenora McEntire-Doss, public relations coordinator for the system.
Superintendent Jeff Wilson and county board members are still trying to come up with solutions on how to curb the growing debt. One solution the system is considering is to outsource to a collections agency who will call those with unpaid lunch bills until a payment plan can be arranged.
“If you have charges, you get a basic meal and nothing else,” Wilson said.
It has been nearly a year since the county schools voted to end the free lunch program, but talks started months before the decision was made. The reasoning to cut the program was a lack of federal reimbursements.
The way it works is the federal government will reimburse Floyd County Schools for the free lunches the school provides if the system has 40% of its students eligible for the program. The technology to keep track of how many students were eligible no longer exists, and as the counties numbers slipped, so did their funding.
The system had a choice. They could pay around $500,000 out of pocket to keep the program afloat — which they can not financially afford — or go back to a need-based system, which is what they did.
Under the current lunch price program: Elementary school student lunches are $2.25, middle and high school student lunches will are $2.50 and the reduced rate for K-12 students who are eligible are $.40.
Children under exceptional circumstances — such as students who are considered to be homeless who are migrants or as foster care — are eligible for free and reduced lunches, as well as children in families who bring in under a certain level of income.