Southwest Licking Director of Food Services Ginger Parsons proposed a scenario for lunch charges to the school board Dec. 20 that was a little more palatable to board members than one that was previously suggested.
On Nov. 15, Parsons told board members that uncollected lunch charges were getting out of control and at the end of October, the district had $8,000 in uncollected lunch charges.
Currently, all students are allowed to charge three meals after their individual lunch accounts are empty. Staff may also charge meals.
Parsons suggested that elementary students be limited to one charge over and middle and high school students receive none as a method to stop the overcharges from accumulating. However, board members were generally not in favor of that plan.
On Dec. 20, Parsons said she has found most of the charging takes place at the middle and high school level.
"These kids should be old enough to know when their accounts are low," she said.
Parsons proposed that elementary students receive three meal charges beyond their accounts, middle school students two and high school students one.
"I think that puts us in the right direction," she said.
Parsons also suggested not allowing staff or faculty to charge lunches. Those who are past the charge limit would receive a "courtesy lunch," basically a cheese sandwich and orange juice.
"I do like this new policy better than what was brought to us (in November)," said board Vice President Cindy Zaino. "I just want to be sure we're keeping all our kids' needs in mind."
Zaino did question, however, the need to stop faculty and staff from charging altogether.
"I'm not advocating for free lunches for everybody," Zaino said, "but I know as a teacher, I've gone in there before and forgotten my money, and I don't want to eat a cheese sandwich."
Board President Don Huber reiterated that no one can walk into a restaurant without money and order a meal, so faculty should not necessarily receive that benefit.
Parsons said she looked into how other districts handle charging and Newark and Pickerington were the only other local districts she found to allow charging.
She said Newark's food service currently is $5,000 short from charges. Superintendent Robert Jennell said Southwest Licking is approximately $2,400 short at this point.
"Certainly, we don't want kids to be hungry; that's not the intention," Parsons said. "The problem is we don't want to be two or three thousand dollars or more in the hole at the end of the year."
Parsons said she and the district's IT department are working on a phone system to notify parents when their children's lunch accounts are empty or running low.
She said she hopes the system will be in place late this month or early February.
Parsons said she's trying to improve communication so students aren't embarrassed to be out of money, but she also wants to be sure the automated system doesn't call parents so often that they feel hassled.
"We want to make sure we're not bothering people in that sense," she said.
Jennell asked for more discussion and research to take place before any official action is taken on charging for lunches.