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Madison schools work directly with families to pay off school lunch debt

MADISON (WKOW) — The Madison Metropolitan School District currently has about $90,000 in unpaid lunch debt, but food nutrition director Steve Youngbauer said they’re optimistic about keeping the debt manageable.

“We do a lot of communication with the families, talking with them about the importance of staying current and what that means for our department and our budget,” he told 27 News.

A school district in Pennsylvania has fired a school official who was involved in sending a letter to parents saying they would lose their children to foster care if they didn’t pay lunch money debts, sparking conversations.

The district said it prefers to work with families who owe directly and don’t punish students for the debt. Every student will get the same meal, regardless of whether there is a negative balance on their account or not. The only restriction, Youngbauer said, is that they aren’t able to get a la carte snacks.

Youngbauer said a large amount of the debt comes from families who qualify for free or reduced lunch through the federal reimbursement program, but don’t fill out the application in a timely manner or at all.

“Our district really believes that getting a good nutritious meal is critical for our kids and as a result, folks that haven’t been able to pay [or] don’t have money on account, we’ll do everything we can do get them eligible for the benefits so we can get that reimbursement through the federal program,” he said.

They utilize a number of resources to do that, including automated phone calls twice a week, having social workers personally work with families, or sending emails.

Last December, the Human Resources department raised more than $25,000 to pay of part of the district’s lunch debt. Ndaziona Ndafooka, who helped organize the fundraiser, said she’s glad Madison was and is willing to accept donations, as well as put a focus on families and not consequences.

“The district was very supportive of us reaching out to our community and seeking help,” she said. “We are managed by our community in a lot of ways, [and] we have a responsibility to allow the community to have a say in what happens here, and demonstrate what type of Madison we want to be.”

As the district continues to find new resources to address the debt, like donations, Youngbauer said he remains optimistic.

“We want to provide the best program possible that we can for their students in terms of the nutrition that prepares them every day in the classroom,” he said. “Having good nutrition is a basic need, and one that we feel is an important part of every kids’ school day.”

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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