Basic lunch for kids who can’t pay

  • Tue May 18th, 2010 8:02pm

By Eric Stevick For the Enterprise

LYNNWOOD — With $139,000 in IOUs, the Edmonds School District will no longer allow students to incur debt on their lunch accounts for the remainder of the school year.

The policy took effect May 17.

Parents with existing school lunch debts have been told through letters about the change. Last week, messages went home to all parents.

“We are very sensitive to keeping this change from impacting students and the ability for them to receive a meal,” said Barbara Lloyd, the district’s food services director. “It’s a delicate balance, yet not something we can ignore. Our bottom line needs to balance as well.”

Students who can’t pay will receive what the district calls a “safety net” meal — a cold cheese sandwich, a box of raisins and milk.

“No child will go without food,” said D.J. Jakala, an Edmonds School District spokeswoman.

Until two years ago, the district allowed unlimited debts for student meals. With IOUs mounting in the fall of 2008, the district enacted a policy preventing students from receiving a hot meal if they had a debt. Those students were given a cheese sandwich instead.

After public outcry, the district quickly revised its policy to allow elementary students to have a hot lunch if they owed less than $15. Middle and high school students weren’t allowed to carry a tab.

Now, even if they are behind in payments, students can get a hot meal so long as they pay for it that day.

Historically, the bill for unpaid meals escalates in spring time, Jakala said.

As it stands, 6,261 students owe for lunches. There are another 1,464 former students behind on payments. Most are elementary school students who owe less than $15.

Depending on the district’s success at collecting for unpaid meals, the Edmonds School Board could consider tapping the general fund to pay the meal debt.

Eric Stevick writes for the Herald of Everett.