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Southern Boone school district looking for solutions to unpaid meal debt

The Southern Boone school district is facing $30,000 in unpaid meal debt from about 87 families in the district.

“Parents aren’t paying their bills, more or less,” said superintendent Chris Felmlee.

Felmlee said much of the debt is attributed to families who are not on free and reduced lunch. Felmlee said for those families that are on free and reduced lunch, and have filled out the necessary paperwork and qualified, the district forgives that debt. But only 23 percent of students actually qualifies.

“The district’s always willing to work with a family,” he said. “I really don’t want to become a lawyer and take people to small claims court, but I fear that’s going to happen.”

A few months ago, the school board proposed new policies to encourage the payment of the debt because Felmlee said the district is not in a position to keep accruing that debt.

“It’s a true liability,” he said.

Felmlee said the policies, which included taking away a child’s eligibility to attend some kind of annual event, were proposed mostly out of frustration because certain parents have outright refused to pay the debt despite regular communication form the district about the debt. One family has accrued more than $5,000 in unpaid meal debt.

The district said it understands that there are many families that are just shy of qualifying for free and reduced lunch and said it would like to see parents start a dialogue about that. Felmlee said they could set up some sort of payment plan for those families.

Although there are some families who are able to afford it but still don’t pay.

In other districts, students and families who can’t pay are either refused service or receive a cheaper lunch. Felmlee said that’s not an option.

“We’re not out to hurt anyone, definitely not out to hurt our kids,” he said. “We don’t shame kids and we don’t feed them a different meal.”

Parents in the district criticized the proposed policies, maintaining that they shouldn’t penalize students.

Several district officials as well as members of the school community are meeting Thursday night to discuss other options that will not penalize a student.

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