KINGMAN - With the new school year just around the corner, and with Kingman Unified School District looking at one of its tightest budgets ever, the school district is planning to curb unnecessary lunch charges by students abusing a district-wide policy.
Currently, that policy allows any student to charge a lunch to his or her account if, say, the student forgets to bring lunch money.
While many parents end up settling their child's accounts in time, there are students in the district abusing the policy. There is no limit to the amount of charges a student can incur over the year, and no clear consequences for not settling their accounts once the school year ends.
The KUSD school board modified part of that policy when the issue came up last week. Hard numbers were not available at the meeting. An estimated figure had $54,000 in outstanding charges accumulated over the last three years.
"We're trying to get actual numbers. We can't really tell what's happening," said board member Jeri Brock. The board asked Paula Loomis, director of food services, to provide such numbers at the next board meeting.
Part of the issue, according to Brock, stems from parents not signing up students for the free or reduced lunch programs. Under those programs, the district gets partially reimbursed every time a student gets lunch.
"If people would sign up for the free/reduced lunch program, we would receive funds from the feds to pay for the lunches. If people don't sign the paper, we don't get the funding and it puts us in the hole," said Brock.
Loomis estimated that each lunch plate costs $3.65 to produce, based on the total expenditures of the food services department at KUSD divided by the number of lunches served at the school district.
The district sells lunches for $2.50, $2.75, and $3 at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, respectively.
Under the reduced lunch program, students pay 40 cents and the district gets $2.66 reimbursed. And, under the free lunch program, students get lunch for free and the district gets reimbursed $3.06.
The amount spent on producing lunches can fluctuate based on commodities provided by the Arizona Department of Education. Each year, Loomis is given money from the state to spend on raw products: beef, eggs, vegetables, etc. That product is sent to a processing company to be processed into items such as hamburger patties. The money for the food itself is provided by the state, saving the district some money.
The district also receives Title 1 money based on the number of students in the free and reduced lunch program.
Applications are available for the lunch program at registration. According to Loomis, information required includes the number of people in the household and total household income, and the application only needs to be filled out once a year.
The board did take action to help thwart abuse of the policy at the high school level, where students are racking up charges without their parent's permission. Part of high school registration this year will require parents to sign a form giving permission for their student to charge for lunch. The charges must be paid in full by the time of graduation, or the student doesn't walk.
The policy was recommended by Superintendent Roger Jacks and passed by the board.
"Our board is very much in favor of students to charge their meals if they need to," said board member Charles Lucero. He was on the board when they approved unlimited charges three years ago.
"We just want to make sure that, if students charge their meals, their parents are aware of it," he said.