Cabot public schools crack down on student lunch debt

CABOT (KATV) - Only a month and a half into the school year the Cabot School District, worried about mounting debt is making some changes. Administrators say the debt is coming from parents who are not paying for school lunches. So starting next week, students who haven't paid will get an alternate, more basic lunch.

It is a delicate balancing act. The Cabot School board has taken the stance that they will not turn a student away so after five charges that go unpaid, you get a sandwich and milk.

The majority of the student who has an outstanding lunch balance with the Cabot School District owes less than 10-dollars, but multiple that by several thousand kids and you get $21,148.27 cents to be exact.

Erin Wilkes is the Food Service Director. "This early in the year, it would be really hard to recoup that because as the year goes, typically the charges increase."

If history repeats itself, it's unlikely they will recoup the money and it's not for a lack of trying. Every Monday parents get an automated call with the amount owed, later in the week they get a letter and after several days an administrator calls the parents directly.

Wilkes adds, "Those funds come out of our budget so we are not able to provide as good a quality of food as we'd like to."

So starting Monday, October 8, students who have used up 5-charges without paying will get a sandwich and milk because "If they're not eating, they are not going to learn," Wilkes says.

Superintendent, Dr. Tony Thurman adds, "You don't want to punish the kids, it's the parents responsibility to pay the food service account but we have to draw the line in some way to make sure we are being fair and equitable."

The district knows families who don't qualify for free or reduced lunches do fall on hard times, but they say as long as you call they will let you set up a payment plan for what you can afford.

Other Central Arkansas School policies:

North Little Rock School District:

Only elementary students can charge.

After three times a parent is called and they get two more credits.

The debt rolls over to the next school year for parents to pay.

The Little Rock School District has a no charge policy.

Last year, the Pulaski County Special School District did not enforce its policy and incurred more than $160,000 in debt. Their new policy is three charges for elementary and middle school. This year the PCSSD is owed $6,300.

NLR, LRSD and PCSSD do not offer alternate lunch citing someone still has to foot the bill.

The schools also have an online payment plan.

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