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Local Schools Working to Recoup Unpaid Lunch Tabs

Posted at: 05/22/2013 7:07 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Making sure kids get a healthy meal is important to most schools. Many school districts give students a healthy lunch whether or not they have money in their account.

It's hard to forget to feed your child at home. But when they are off at school, sometimes it's out of sight out of mind.

"I think many parents, just like me, forget to replenish the lunch account even though we get a notice home or something," said Deborah Seelinger, Rochester Public School Board Member.

Deborah Seelinger has a 4th grader in the district. She says students who don't have any money in their account use to get a cheese sandwich and a milk. But that changed last fall, and now money or not, all students get a healthy meal.

"It just makes sense and it's the right thing to do to keep feeding those kids the healthy meal that everyone else is getting on their plate," said Seelinger. 

Schools tend to see a couple thousand dollars of negative lunch balances each year, but the Rochester Public Schools have accumulated $13,000 in unpaid lunches. In part because cheese sandwiches are no longer a viable lunch.

"I personally cannot see punishing a student for something that he or she is not responsible for," said Superintendent Michael Munoz.

The school board came up with a solution Tuesday night.

"We're going to make every effort we can to work with families to try to work something out for them so we don't have to go to the last resort which is to turn them into a collection agency," said Munoz.

Superintendent Munoz says unpaid balances is not unique to the Rochester area. It's a statewide, even nationwide problem.

"It's just something that schools deal with," said Munoz.

"The ultimate goal is to get our children fed with a healthy meal every day and make sure our families who need the free and reduced price lunch program are on that program," said Seelinger. 

Munoz says the more than $10,000 in negative balances is impacting the district’s general fund because the federal government does not allow the nutrition funds to absorb the unpaid lunches.