The Vernon Township School District Board of Education last week unanimously voted to provide every student in the district with a lunch, even if they have a negative balance.
Up until the vote, the district continued to provide lunch to students in grades K-8, but had suspended providing lunch to students in grades 9-12, who had negative account balances.
“That we’re not feeding students in grades 9-12 who cannot charge a lunch should be offensive to everyone,” Board Vice President Justin Annunziata said. “Every student in our schools should have the right to eat every day.”
Previously, in the high school, students with negative balances were given turkey sandwiches, but District Business Administrator Steve Kepnes said high school students coming in for turkey sandwiches and running a lunch bill.
“What would happen is a student would get a turkey sandwich for two days,” Kepnes said. “Then the third day, they would bring in $2 and get an ice cream, but that sandwich is still unpaid. They just kept growing and growing and they are finding the loopholes.”
Kepnes said the district has seen increasing lunch debt over the past three years.
The district ended the 2016-17 school year with $8,600 in outstanding lunch charges, $16,000 after 2017-18 and $26,000 after 2018-19. The totals are not cumulative and are per year.
Kepnes said the district recouped about $5,000 in lunch charges during the summer.
"We might not collect this money, and the hole will continue to grow," he said.
All board members agreed on the need to provide every student with a hot lunch in grades K-12, but also agreed the district needs to find a way to collect the outstanding lunch charges.
“The parents need to pay the bill,” School Board member Mark Cilli said.
The vote brings the high school into compliance with the policy to provide every student with lunch, but school board President Brad Sparta suggested putting something in the policy regarding free- and reduced-price lunches.
“We should be reaching out and educating the parents on resources of free and reduced lunch,” Annunziata said. “We should make every non-punitive measure to possible to collect debts that are outstanding.”
Another part of the policy is to lock the Parent Portal accounts of those who have not paid. Currently 98 families had locked accounts
Kepnes had been making collection calls, but Cilli suggested someone in the individual schools make the phone calls.
“From a student life perspective, that principal gets to know what’s going on with the child,” school board member Kelly Mitchell said.
“That we’re not feeding students in grades 9-12 who cannot charge a lunch should be offensive to everyone. Every student in our schools should have the right to eat every day.”
Vernon Township School District Board of Education