School district paid lunch debt at $7,000, board welcomes donations from public

The Brown County School Board and superintendent are searching for ways to pay the debt that has accumulated since the schools have returned to paid lunches.

The topic was discussed at the school board meeting on Feb. 2, as the school is district is around $7,000 in debt because of unpaid lunches, according to Schools Superintendent Emily Tracy.

The schools were able to offer free meals through the COVID-19 pandemic — including breakfast, lunch and dinner at afterschool programs — thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Indiana Department of Education’s Office of School and Community Nutrition (SCN).

Last August, USDA passed a ruling to return to how it was before the pandemic. At the start of the 2022-23 school year, the schools went back to the paid, reduced or free status for lunchtime meals.

Free breakfast and dinner are still offered in Brown County Schools, Tracy said last week, and there are still opportunities for families to enroll their students into the free and reduced lunch program.

Getting families to enroll in the free or reduced lunch program has been a challenge for the schools since paid lunches came back, especially because the application has to be completed every year.

“No matter how many phone calls we make, or visits or emails or whatever different ways we try to contact families for whatever reason, that piece has been really, really, challenging for us,” Tracy said at the Feb. 2 school board meeting.

“We can’t do it for them.”

School board president Amy Oliver said it would be beneficial to both the school district and the individual qualifying families to complete the online application and enroll in the program.

Tracy said any donations to the schools lunch debt in the district are “greatly appreciated.” The donations go towards the debt for the entire district, not just one student or school.

Donations can be made to the district through any school by contacting school administration at 812-988-6601.

“I just think that is an expense people have gotten used to not paying, and it’s a tough one,” Oliver said.

Tracy said the decision for paid or free school lunches is not a local one, it is up to the state of Indiana or the federal level.

However, it is up to a local decision to limit indebted students to bread and peanut butter instead of a hot meal that every other student receives.

That is something Brown County Schools will not force on the students, Tracy said.

“We don’t turn away food from any kiddo … we have made the local decision to not do that to any student, no matter what the deficit is in the account,” she said.

“Kids get to eat.”