Lexington, N.C. -- The Davidson County School District plans to take action against parents who don't pay for their children's lunches.
Thousands of parents owe money. The bill adds up to about $54,000. At a time when everyone's budget is tight, that money could save a teacher's job or keep critical supplies in the classroom.
In the past, if parents didn't pay for their child's lunch, the county covered the cost at the end of the year. That's because the district didn't have any way to force parents to pay.
Now, administrators want to hire a collection agency and start dinging peoples' credit report. A school lunch costs $2.50. It's a price that adds up to thousands of dollars when parents don't pay.
"The parents were not having to step up to the plate to pay the charges at the end of the school year," Child Nutrition Director Brittany Benge said.
The county has to cover the unpaid balance right now. But, the sour economy forced the district to go after delinquent parents.
"We're calling a collection agency because we have to have some type of accountability. At the end of the day, we all need accountability. That's where it comes from," Benge said.
When a parent owes money, cafeteria staff tells the student each day, calls home and sends a letter. When the balance reaches more than eleven dollars and twenty-five cents, hot meals go off limits. Instead, students get a choice between a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a cheese sandwich.
"We want our kids to be on the same playing field. We're not going to single anyone out. We won't ever do that. We want them to feel just like any other student," Davis Townsend Elementary School Principal Steve Reynolds said.
Classmates would have no idea if the students' family owed money.
"They'll still eat together with their class. They'll still do the same activities with their class whenever they come into the cafeteria. So, we will not be separating any of these students," Benge said.
While students won't get singled out, parents will. It could show up on their credit report.
"I'm not sure how you can be upset about that when the money is going right back to your kids and it's something they can use and our staff can use for their kids' education," Reynolds said.
Administrators say no child will go hungry. The district won't call a collection agency until a parent owes more than $37.50.
Of course, at this point, this is still all just a proposal. The school board will vote on the proposal at its June 30 meeting.
Parents who can't afford to pay for lunches can also always sign up for the "free and reduced" lunch program at any time during the year.
WFMY NEWS 2