Mercer schools owed more than $7,000 in lunch money

April 07, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - About 250 students in the Mercer County School District owe more than $7,000 in lunch money, and school officials are at a loss to remedy the situation.

"We've exhausted everything," Superintendent Bruce Johnson told the Mercer County Board of Education Tuesday evening at the board's regular meeting.

Since school staff members have exhausted every means available, Johnson suggested the matter be turned over to the board's attorney for legal action, if necessary, and the board approved his recommendation. He said he thinks it's possible to go after the money in small claims court.

The largest bill is at Mercer County Elementary School, where the tab is $4,391; students at King Middle School owe $1,568 and Mercer County High School students owe $1,361.

Johnson said the staff has made telephone calls to parents and written letters, but no solution has been found.

"To keep feeding students, we've got to stay afloat. We can't stay in business at this rate," Johnson said. Finance officer Joy Huff said one bill for about $200 has been paid and is probably the largest single bill the schools had.


Some can afford to drive to school

High school principal Terry Yates said some of the students who owe the high school money can afford to drive to school, but have not paid their cafeteria bills. Yates suggested those students lose parking privileges at the school.

Johnson said it should not be the board's responsibility to subsidize the lunch program and pay the unpaid bills.

"You'd have to subsidize every child in the system," he said. Some of the students might qualify for free and reduced lunch, but they have to sign up for it to benefit from the program.

"We can't force them to request free and reduced lunch," said Sylvia Moore, food service director.

There are more students than ever on the program that assists parents in paying for their children's lunch, Johnson said.

He said parents are notified after a child fails to pay for lunch the third time, but the food service will not withhold food from the children. "We don't penalize students. We go after the parents," the superintendent said.

Other districts using prepaid lunch programs

Other districts in the area have gone to prepaid lunch programs. Students deposit money into a lunch account from which the cost of their meals is deducted.

The Danville school district generally has not experienced a problem with students owing substantial amounts of money for lunches, Superintendent Bob Rowland said today.

"Students either pay on a daily basis or in advance for a week or more," Rowland said. "When the students pay in advance, accounts are set up and they draw from those accounts each day. There may be a few scattered incidents among our five cafeteries where students have overdrawn, if you will, but they are not denied a meal, and those situations usually are taken care of by the school notifying the parents and working something out."

Meanwhile, Danville students on the free and reduced lunch program are assigned numbers and punch in those numbers on a machine when they get their lunches, he said.

Staff Writer Herb Brock contributed to this story.

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