Wednesday, July 11, 2001
Prepaid lunches available to more parents
Paying for school lunches is going to get easier this year for students at 11 of Fayette's public schools.
Two years ago the Fayette County School System implemented a pilot prepaid lunch option at three of its schools: Spring Hill and Oak Grove Elementary and Whitewater Middle. During the two-year period, the school system's school nutrition department has been working out kinks and glitches of the program before taking it into other schools.
"We've been working on this for some time," said Cheryl Calhoun, director of school food services. "We had lunchroom managers and school principals look at several programs before deciding on the one that would best fit our needs. Our first step in implementation was to get the program up and running at a few schools before taking it throughout the system."
Students who participate in the program are randomly assigned four-digit personal identification numbers. Lunchroom cashiers enter the PIN into a computerized system to debit money from a student's account. Parents can place as much money into the account as they want to cover lunch costs for a week, month or entire year. If a student forgets his or her PIN, cashiers can easily look up the student's number using a last name.
The prepaid system offers several advantages for both students and parents. One of the best aspects is that parents and students do not have to remember to take lunch money to school on a daily basis. Additionally, parents can keep up with what their students eat and when they eat it.
When placing money in the account, parents designate how much, if any, can be used to buy extra items such as water, juice or milk. Upon request, parents can get a history report from the school lunchroom manager showing exactly what their children ate on a daily basis and what time of day they bought their lunch. Parents do not have to worry about their children running out of money because notices are sent home when the account is getting low on funds.
As the school system works to bring more schools online with the prepaid lunch system, Peachtree City Elementary will be the first of 11 to come on board this year. Calhoun says it will take approximately three weeks to train lunchroom staff at each school on how to use the system. If all goes to plan, Calhoun hopes to have the program operational in five to six of the schools by October or November with the remainder online by the end of March.
For the first time this year, deposit envelopes are going to be available at each participating school for placing money into the prepaid lunch accounts. Previously, deposit tickets had been used. According to Calhoun, one of the biggest problems associated with the prepaid system has been identifying which account to place the funds into. The envelopes are expected to help solve this problem by providing a space on the outside for writing the PIN of each child being paid for by the parent.
"Parents with only one child in the program can write the PIN number on the check. With multiple children, parents will want to use the space on the envelope to indicate the accounts for which the money is intended," explained Calhoun.
Parents who wish to prepay their students' lunches can do so before school begins. During orientation at the participating schools, lunchroom managers will be available to answer questions, go over planned menus and take prepayments.