BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Students in the Fort Madison School District that have a negative balance on their meal plan will be provided an alternative meal starting Monday.
An alert that was sent out on the district’s text system indicated the alternative meals would start Friday, but FMCSD Food Service Director Tiffany Fullhart said the change was set to be effective Sept. 15 but the actual substitution meals will begin on Monday.
She said there is still time for families to contact the school district office at 372-7252 to set up payment plans for accounts that are seriously delinquent.
According to a policy that was approved by the Fort Madison School Board, students with accounts showing a negative balance of $10 or more will be given alternative entree of a cheese sandwich. Fullhart said the students will still get the day’s fruit and vegetable offering and a carton of milk. But Fullhart said there will still be a charge for the alternative meal.
Fullhart said the charge will be cheaper for the elementary students than it is for the high school students.
She said the state mandated the change from school districts because so many schools were experiencing budget issues. She said the cheese sandwich substitution over the entree was a template from other districts.
The state of Iowa requires all schools to come up with some kind of alternative meal policy,” Fullhart said. “Prior to me starting, they used templates from around the state to create the policy. So the school board voted on a template based on the Iowa requirements.”
She said it’s her plan to try and keep families notified of the pending account issues and try to keep the issue minimized. The district last year alone wrote off close to $70,000 in unpaid meals from the past several years. Fullhart said a phone call to the district office is the best way to set up payment plans for large negative balances, but checks to bring accounts current can be delivered to the schools.
“I’m going to try and stay on it a little more. Hopefully notify families more frequently. Right now I’m trying to contact the families who would be subjected to the alternative meal plan immediately and see if they are interested in a payment plan to get the balance positive. And they would just need to call me to discuss the particulars,” Fullhart said.
Although she didn’t have exact figures to date, Fullhart said the school district is once again carrying a negative balance on meals. Since the district released the announcement and information has been released on the alternative plan she said she has received a few payments.
She said the schools in the district handles lunches a little differently, but all the students in the lower grades get a ticket for lunch. A certain color ticket would indicate to food service workers which students would get the alternative meal.
“The workers giving out the tickets don’t even know until a student comes into the line and the computer tells them which color ticket to give. The middle school will have a ticket program as well,” Fullhart said.
She said she hopes the substituted entree coupled with an uptick in communication with the families of the district will help keep balances in line this year.
“We’ve had a quite a few people who’ve said they are coming in to pay,” she said. “I’m hoping to not have balances that high. If you go into that program at below $10 I’m hoping to get a payment faster so we don’t get such high outstanding balances. Some of these balances have to have been carried year after year. But it doesn’t take much when you have four kids. It adds up very quickly.”
The school district has set the amount at $10 and Fullhart said that amount may need to be looked at because families with four or five kids can use that $10 up pretty quickly.
“I’m going to try and send out notices a littler earlier. The difference here is if you have one kid with $10 or $15 left you’re ok for a couple of days. But if you’re only at $10 or $15 and you have four or five kids you’re going to go through that pretty quick. So it’s tougher in that situation,” she said.
Parents in the district can also keep tabs on their own accounts by logging into the schools website at www.fmcsd.org, click on the “Community” link on the top bar and then scroll down to the PowerSchool and Lunch Program option. Selected “Lunch Account” and then in the WordWare page set up an account.
“Right now the biggest thing is I’m offering a payment plan, so if they are interested in getting something set up, they just need to call us and we’ll work with them, but the alternate offering starts on Monday,” Fullhart said.