WELLSBURG - Delinquent payments for school lunches and breakfasts continue to be a problem, the Brooke County Board of Education learned Tuesday.
Tom Davidson, the school district's nutrition director, told the board parents of children in Brooke County schools owe about $48,000 for the meals, up from about $30,000 last year.
Through a system implemented by the state several years ago, Brooke County students may purchase breakfasts and lunches by swiping a student identification card through a card reader used to generate bills sent to their parents.
The move addresses the incidence of small children losing or forgetting their lunch money and concerns that children eligible for free or reduced price meals felt awkward about receiving the different colored tickets issued to them in the past, Davidson said.
But it's also allowed some parents to avoid paying for the meals, leading the school board to recruit the county prosecutor's office and a collections agency in recent years in an effort to collect unpaid bills.
Parents who have failed to pay more than $50 are cut off from the credit system, but an effort is made to provide something for every child to eat, regardless of whether they have paid, Davidson said.
He said the county prosecutor's office has again agreed to send letters advising parents they may be brought to court if they fail to pay.
Davidson said applications for free and reduce price meals also will be sent soon to the homes of every student, with the exception of families who qualify for food stamps because the federal government advises the school district of their eligibility.
Anyone with questions about free or reduced lunches may call Davidson at (304) 527-2100.
He said parents may apply for free or reduced price meals at any time, but their current eligibility unfortunately doesn't affect their responsibility to pay delinquent bills from the past.
Davidson said he's made arrangements with about 20 families to pay off their delinquent bills in installments and will work with others who have financial difficulties.
He said 49 percent of Brooke County students qualified for free or reduced price meals last year, and he expects that number to rise to more than 50 percent this year.
Recently the school board approved increases in prices for the breakfasts and lunches at the recommendation of Davidson, who cited price hikes from food vendors resulting from rising fuel costs and anticipated increases in produce from flooded farm states.
Beginning this fall, students in all grades will pay $1 for breakfasts, while lunch prices will be $1.25 for grades K-4; $1.30 for grades 5-8; and $1.35 for grades 9-12.
Prices for staff also will increase, with the board approving a $2.80 price for lunches, a 15-cent increase; and $3.90 for lunches, a 40-cent increase.