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A Year of Change for Nevada’s Food Service

It has been a year of change for Nevada Community School District Food Service. We began the year serving meals to high school students at Gates Hall until we could move into our new state-of-the-art kitchen in December. Normally middle school meals are prepared in the High school kitchen and transported to middle school, but with the temporary high school kitchen at Gates Hall, we were challenged to find additional storage and prep space so that middle school meals were prepared on-site. We also brought two cooks from the high school over to help prepare those meals. In fact, we spent the first few months of this school year reassigning staff to different locations or into different positions, only to move them once again when we relocated back to the high school.

The Nevada Community School District food service staff has been fabulous and very flexible as we worked through staffing the kitchens to serve 1,200–1,300 meals per day. We have moved some staff into kitchen manager positions and we have hired new workers to fill vacant positions. We think we managed to make all these changes with only minimal disruption to the food service system that our students have been accustomed to.

The most recent change, and by far the most controversial one, has been the reenactment of a prior school policy regarding delinquent lunch account. When I was hired as food service director three-and-a-half years ago, students with delinquent accounts were served a peanut butter sandwich and milk until their accounts were paid. That policy didn’t sit well with me, because I felt like any action to correct account delinquency should be toward parents and not our students. I believed that we could work with the people responsible for payment of student lunch fees to resolve the matter.

We continued the practice of calling people with delinquent accounts, sending low balance and delinquent balance notices by email or mail and sending notes home with students. Soon after changing the peanut butter sandwich policy, we noticed an increase in the total of delinquent accounts, and those accounts have skyrocketed to the point where the Food Service Department is no longer able to provide the quality of meals that I expect.

Here are a few facts that most patrons are not aware of:

1. School food service departments are required by USDA to be self-supporting. That means no general funding or other monies from the district can ever be transferred to the food service account. Just like a business, food service departments must balance their food costs, labor costs and miscellaneous expenses so they are not greater than the income received. At the present, Nevada Food Service is unable to meet those expenses because even though food costs, labor costs and miscellaneous expenses have been incurred, the revenue for those meals has not been received.

2. The total amount of delinquency owed is a combination of student accounts with free and reduced status, as well as full pay students, and is about equally divided between each of our three buildings. Free-meal students do not owe for meals; however, some of those accounts had significant balances prior to being certified as qualifying for free meals. Reduced-meal students must pay 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. Many reduced- status accounts have significant balances reflecting non-payment of those fees. Many full-pay accounts have grown to delinquent balances of several hundred dollars, with a few at the $1,000 delinquent level.

3. Anyone can file papers at any time to establish whether they qualify for free or reduced meals. However, those papers must be filed at the beginning of each school year for recertification. Failure to complete those papers will result in students being charged full price for meals. Also, circumstantial temporary certification is sometimes allowed when a family’s financial position is compromised. We have many families in our district that would qualify for free or reduced meal prices that have not filled out the necessary paperwork.

4. Some of the accounts with delinquent balances have not had a deposit made in over two years. Many of the delinquent accounts have only had one small deposit made at the beginning of the school year, even though meals were charged to that account each day. With all these accounts, we have diligently tried to work with those persons responsible for payment so that an agreeable payment plan could be established.

5. Nevada Food Service sends out low account and delinquent account notices by email several times per week. Notices are sent when an account has $20 or less in the account. Only students with a negative account balance of $10 or more will be served an alternate lunch. That allows a $30 range before the new policy would be applied to a delinquent account.

6. Power School and the Food Service system are not linked. Therefore, when an email is changed on Power School, it does not automatically change it on the food service account. It is important that we are notified of correct contact information so we know our notices are being received. In addition to notices, we attempt to let students know ahead of time if they will be receiving an alternate meal at lunch.

7. We deposit all funds received before lunch begins so accounts have credit for those deposits. If a student waits until lunch has begun to drop off a deposit, it will not be reflected until the afternoon deposits are made. In addition, all deposits made through PaySchool are sent to us every 24 hours, which means if you make a deposit in the morning, it will not be reflected in an account until the following day.

During the first semester of this school year, it became evident that our current delinquent account system was not working. It also became apparent that because we needed to take extreme measures to cut expenses, such as reducing labor hours or buying lesser quality food, the delinquent balance situation would affect all students in our district, regardless of the status of their lunch accounts. It didn’t seem fair that those students who have always had a positive balance in their accounts might receive slower service or be served a meal made with reduced-price food because of the high accumulation of negative balances. Thus, the gut-wrenching decision was made to start the former delinquent account policy once again. No one involved in that decision-making process feels good about this new policy. We all wish a different solution could be found, but the reality is that we could not find one. The reality also is that in the first three weeks of enforcing this policy, more than one-fourth of the total amount of delinquent accounts have been paid.

As always, if you have questions, comments or concerns in reference to Nevada Food Service, please contact: Candy Anderson, Food Service Director, at: candyanderson@nevada.k12.ia.us or 515-382-7651, ext. 350.

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