UPDATE: Polk County Schools will revise school nutrition policy
UPDATE: Polk County school officials are now revising the school nutrition policy.
This comes days after parents expressed concerns about a letter that was sent home explaining the new policy.
The Polk County school system was audited in November.
That's when they learned their delinquent account balance was too high.
Director of Schools Dr. James Jones said they are still trying to find a way to fix the issue.
“Historically, we have a lot of lunch charges,” Jones said. “One of the things that we were written up for was allowing too many charges.”
Dr. Jones said he realized some of the conditions in the policy were unreasonable, but having a high lunch charge balance is unacceptable.
The school system will have a new solution for families when students return to class on Tuesday.
“Efficient ways to try to get those lunch charges paid for but also some realistic ways,” Jones said.
Currently, all students can eat breakfast for free.
Elementary and middle school students pay $2 for lunch and high schoolers pay $2.50.
The recent audit found that the cafeteria program was barely making ends meet.
“The cafeteria funds swim with their chin on the water,” Jones explained.
The cafeteria budget is separate from the school system's general fund.
Jones said they cannot go in the red because then the school system has to kick in, and they cannot afford to do that.
Jones said they hope to re-apply for the program in which every student would get free breakfast and lunch.
“The education system is an ever-evolving, ever-changing depending on the community and depending on available funds,” Jones added.
To qualify for the free breakfast and lunch program, the cafeteria fund must have at least $150,000.
That money can come from à la carte sales, fundraisers and grants.
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A letter was sent home explaining the new meal charge policy.
Polk County Schools received aid from federal funding to provide meals for students.
An increase in delinquent charges to student accounts caused the policy to change.
After 30 days, certain privileges will be revoked.
The letter was also posted to Facebook where hundreds of people started commenting.
Julie Moses and her brother graduated from Polk County Schools.
They stay up-to-date on what's going on with the school system.
Wednesday, the letter was sent home notifying parents of a change to the school nutrition policy.
“We didn't have a lot of resources, but the teachers made the difference,” said Julie Moses. “The teachers were the ones that helped my brother and I succeed.”
Channel 3 reached out to Polk County Schools Superintendent Dr. James Jones who explained the policy is now under review.
Students are required to pay, or bring their own lunch. Students on free or reduced meals will not have any interruption with those meal services.
However, on Monday under the new policy, students cannot have an account charge balance higher than $10.
If they do, then there may be penalties like being served an alternate lunch.
Moses says she understands the frustrations parents have with the change, but thinks the policy is fair.
“Things happen, and you may forget your lunch money one day. That's okay,” said Moses. “So, that will get you two or three days of lunch.”
Moses has two children who have been to Hamilton County schools.
Channel 3 compared Polk County’s policy to other school districts.
Hamilton County schools allow elementary and middle school students to charge the meal amount to an account, but does not allow any charges for high school students.
“So, they would give him an alternate lunch. It would be basically a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of fruit and some milk,” said Moses. “I was thankful for that.”
Dr. Jones with Polk County Schools says they will never let a child go hungry.
Moses encourages parents to either provide lunch or look into other options.
“There are subsidies for free and reduced lunch parents can apply for,” said Moses. “It's just a simple as filling out a form and being able to put down your income.”