School meals should not be an issue, but they are

Last Friday an email was sent to parents of the Simpson County Public School System.  It concerned student meal cost and a problem that should not even exist because the school district provides a solution every year before school ever starts.

   The email to parents was from the school district food service manager, Joanna Maddox. It concerned students who are unable to pay for their school meals.

  Since August 14th, the public has donated $3,000.70 to help buy meals for student who can’t pay.  Students have already used $2,807.97 of this money, leaving a balance of $192.73.  Yesterday alone, $84.70 was drawn out to cover the cost of meals for 78 students.  At this pace, we will probably run out of donated money on Monday, October 21, or Tuesday, October 22. Then the district will have to start serving “alternate meals” again consisting of two slices of bread, meat, and one carton of milk.  

  Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly when the money will run out, but it will probably be while  students are being served.  The cafeteria staff will not know until they key in a sale, which will not process due to lack of available funds.  At that point the student and all other students who didn’t turn in free/reduced forms and don’t have the money will be served an alternate meal. 

  We know this will cause confusion in the cafeteria, but due to a conflict between federal and state laws, we have no other option.

    It is unfortunate that some children’s families cannot afford their  lunches and, as pointed out by school board members, family financial situations sometimes change during the year and the school will allow changes because they understand.

   But the solution has already been presented. At the start of each year students are offered the option to apply for free or reduced price lunches.

  Under the program these children could either be eating for free or at reduced cost.  Reduced breakfast costs 30 cents and lunch is 40 cents.

   Sadly, some parents never complete the paperwork required to register their child.

    Also sadly, some parents take advantage of the situation and make a big deal of their child being traumatized over having to eat the “alternate” lunch when they don’t have the full price.  What needs to happen is that the parent and the child be responsible to either enroll in the free and reduced price program or send money for meals.  It was reported to the board that $3,000 has been used so far at $3 per meal, which is 1,000 meals.

    We agree that throwing good food in the garbage and changing to a sandwich may not be the best way  to handle this.  But to stick the community with paying for meals when parents are not doing their part  is wrong. 

  There is a $16,000 tab on the books for the school district because there was no way to settle this.  That needs to be corrected at the state level through the legislature because, according to county officials, it can’t be settled here.