Three years ago, the New Prague Area School District’s food service fund was $2,000 in arrears. This year, that negative balance has grown nearly eight-fold, primarily because of delinquent lunch accounts.
Kim Franta, the district’s food service director, recently told the school board the problem with unpaid meal service accounts has “snowballed at a rapid pace,” the New Prague Times recently reported. Other area school districts face a similar problem, Franta said.
Belle Plaine currently has about $400 in unpaid lunch balances, about half of what was delinquent in 2013-14.
The district gives the students with negative balances friendly reminders about delinquent meal service accounts. Students with accounts in arrears are prohibited from purchasing ala carte meals. The district is planning to work with a collection agency to recover unpaid balances.
The school district also plans to work with area churches and social service providers to encourage families that qualify to apply for free-and-reduced meal services. The New Prague Area School District said about 15 percent of its students qualify for free-and-reduced meal services. Superintendent Tim Dittberner says demographic information indicates that figure should be closer to 20 percent.
Belle Plaine currently has about 19½ percent of its students on free-and-reduced. In 2013-14, over 21 percent of Belle Plaine’s students were on the program.