Lawmakers visit school where lunches were tossed for kids without funds
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"It's less than 30 cents for a paid meal, which is not enough to cover the cost of the meal. So the difference needs to be made up some other way, and that's why they don't want to have a lot of negative balances at a time," she said.
The Salt Lake City School District, as well as several other school districts, has computerized programs that enable parents to set up recurring payments and get timely notifications.
Salt Lake City encourages parents to use that system, which can be accessed from their website. "That will help," said Olsen. "But we also need to handle these things with delicacy."
The district's investigation will try to determine whether its online lunch payment system's automatic debit system was working correctly, Olsen said. A possible glitch in the system may explain why so many parents were unaware of their low account balance.
Neither senator blamed the school, but both agreed that changes are in order.
Weiler said he would rather let the district come up with a solution before imposing legislation. Dabakis said even if the district solves its lunch problems, legislators need to take advantage of "the issue of the moment" and find a permanent solution to school lunches in Utah.
Kids should never go hungry, he said. Lawmakers need to "streamline the bureaucratic system" and find a way to feed all children, even if some children get free lunch who may not qualify.
"If there's any doubt, feed the kid," he said.
The Salt Lake District is not the only place where students have had their lunches thrown away. Megan Allen said her son, who attends West Hills Middle School in the Jordan School District, sees lunches get thrown away for an unpaid balance every day.
Jordan District spokesman Steve Dunham said the district are more strict with secondary school students. Sometimes lunches get thrown away after getting replaced by a smaller substitute, but not before schools make “every attempt” to notify the parents.
The Jordan School District does not have a set policy but will allow elementary school students to get lunches on credit for up to five days, after which the principal will work with the student and family. District cashiers are told specifically not to deny lunch to any students in elementary school, said district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf.
Parents at West Hills Middle get an email when the account is at $10, $5 and a note home at a zero balance. The school's cafeteria workers have also allowed students to call and get a verbal commitment from the parent that they’ll pay, Dunham said. Parents can also make immediate payments on mobile devices.
Principals in the district can also work with a family that is in a difficult financial situation, Dunham said.
In the Granite School District, when an account hits zero, the student still gets lunch and the parents get a phone call and a letter. The Canyons School District, Davis School District and others have similar notification systems.
Contributing: Jed Boal, Mary Richards
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