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Big meeting for BEA School Board

By Staff | Feb 16, 2014

Last Monday night’s Blue Earth Area School Board meeting was so big, it was monumental.

In fact, there were so many important things going on, it resulted in not one, not two, but three stories in this week’s Faribault County Register.

Just look at what happened.

The board authorized moving the eighth grade class from the middle school to the high school.

They inked the teachers contract which covers two years and means the district will spend over $800,000 in new money for salaries and benefits for this school year and next.

But, they will also now be able to sunset a benefit which paid for teachers’ medical insurance from the date they retired until they qualified for Medicare. Ending the practice won’t happen for a few years, but it will eventually save the district some big dollars.

Then there was the decision to begin the 1:1 Technology program putting an iPad or Chromebook into each student’s hands will cost over $500,000.

Three huge decisions involving some serious amounts of cash.

It was an easy decision to split the meeting into three stories; a much harder decision as to which one deserved to be on the front page.

There was also one more item which could have been a story as well. BEA superintendent Evan Gough related to the board how the district was placed on a list of 46 Minnesota schools which have a policy of denying lunch to students who’s lunch accounts have a negative balance.

Gough says he was called back in October by a watchdog group and asked what the school district policy was concerning serving lunch if an account is in arrears. After a couple of phone calls, he finally told them.

At BEA, if a student’s lunch account is $15 or more in the red, they do not qualify for the hot lunch. Since lunch costs less than $3, that means about a week’s worth of meals. If they are on a reduced lunch plan, the meal cost is 40 cents and it takes a lot longer time to get to $15 behind.

Parents have been notified about the account, of course. Several times.

Gough says no BEA staff has ever taken a hot lunch away from a student and thrown it in the trash. And, they don’t deny meals to Kindergarten through fifth grade. He is considering starting an ‘angel account,’ funded by donations, which would pay for a lunch for kids who don’t have funds in their lunch account. A short term loan, as it were.

He also points out the good things happening in the BEA schools as far as food goes. The district is paying around $15,000 extra this year for added fresh fruits and vegetables in Blue Earth. The cost is covered by a grant in Winnebago. And, the district is cooperating with two churches in the two towns which are furnishing ‘Buc Bags’ to kids who need them, to take home meals for over the weekends.

But, there is still that darn hot lunch policy. Should kids keep being served no matter what their account balance is?

Currently at BEA there is about $3,000 past due which parents owe for their students’ hot lunch accounts. Without a policy, that number could easily climb to $10,000 or more.

It is a problem. School lunch costs are in a separate food fund, which at many schools can habitually be in the red anyway, even if the lunches are all paid for. And since it is in its own fund, money from the general fund which might be funding iPads, for instance cannot be transferred to pay for lunches.

On the other hand, no one, school staff or taxpaying citizens, really want to see kids going hungry because they can’t have a hot school lunch if they have a past due balance in their lunch account.

There may not be an ‘easy’ solution to this problem.

My question is, where are the parents in this situation, and why is the school being blamed and not them?

Aren’t they responsible for seeing their children have money in their lunch account? Isn’t it up to them, not the school staff or the taxpayers who support the school?

Is it just because they forget to write the check? Or is it they can’t afford it?

Perhaps instead of the BEA school being on the ‘naughty list,’ there should be a list of the parents who haven’t paid much like the delinquent tax list published each year in the Register.

I jest, of course. But it would certainly get someone’s attention.