"These are tough economic times, we understand that, but these are tax dollars and people need to pay their part."
According to Warren County School District Director of Business Services Jim Grosch, that sums up the district's approach to paying for student lunches.
Grosch said the school district will be pursuing outstanding cafeteria account balances while working to extend the free and reduced meal programs to everyone it can help.
"We're encouraging parents to fill out free and reduced breakfast and lunch applications," Grosch said. "We really encourage people to fill them out before school starts so they're processed and in the system."
At the same time, the district will be sending letters to households with a student who is behind on his or her account. Balances from the 2011-12 school year are being carried over into the 2012-13 year.
"We will be sending out letters to people with a negative balance," Grosch said. "If someone has balances owed and they were over $10 we urge them to pay before the school year."
Those accounts owing more than $10 will only be eligible for the district's basic meal while those accounts owing more than $30 can't obtain any district-served meal.
"We don't want it to get to that point," Grosch emphasized.
According to Grosch, free and reduced breakfast and lunch applications are being sent out and the district is encouraging people to take advantage of the programs. Applications for the program will also be available online at the school's website, www.wcsdpa.org. The receptionist at the district's central office can also provide forms and help filling them out.
Grosch said technology advances have made the programs completely confidential. According to him, the applications are approved at the central office and each student gets a regular meal account number.
"Even the cashier at the cafeteria doesn't know it's a free or reduced account," Grosch said. "We are adamant about keeping this stuff confidential. We urge people to submit applications even if they think they might qualify."
According to Grosch, negative meal account balances totaled approximately $122,000 in 2010 when the district decided to set meal balances for all students to zero. The outstanding balances weren't erased, but the district is pursuing them and has collected approximately $45,000 thus far. That means the district is still owed more than $75,000.
"We're still pursuing past due accounts," Grosch said. "We're looking to start with the largest outstanding balances and look to recover funds through legal means."
The balances don't have to be paid off in full all at once, Grosch said, adding that the district will work out payment plans.
"We would welcome people to call and set up payment terms," Grosch said. "We want to encourage people to pay their balances before legal action is taken."