BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — The Bartlesville school district offers a hot, balanced and tasty meal to all students, but they're thousands of dollars in the hole because some parents can't pay their share.
Fifty-two percent of students at the district get free or reduced lunches, meaning the federal government pays for them.
But the district is accumulating a negative balance that it can no longer write off.
"Last year we had $25,000 built up in unpaid balances, and this year, we're on track at this point to reach about $32,000 in unpaid balances," said Granger Meador with Bartlesville Public Schools.
The district says they have to try to collect the money from parents whose children may actually qualify for free lunches, and even though it's easy to do so, they just haven't applied.
"We do have a struggle with some families, getting them to apply or perhaps there are some that apply and don't qualify and then are unable to find a awy to pay for their lunch.
A former graduate stepped in last year and gave the district $10,000 to pay for unpaid lunches. But the district says the need has gone up, they can't count on another donor, and parents who can, need to help out.
"We've tried a number approaches," Meador said. "We've tried letters. We've tried voice calls. They tried some house visits to some folks.
The district has now instituted robocalls and texts to serve as reminders about negative balances.
Like most districts, Bartlesville never turns away a child that wants to eat lunch, but they say that if they don't get something done about the amounts owed, they are going to have to go back to what they call an alternative lunch for students whose parents are not paying, which will be a cold sandwich, a piece of fruit and milk.
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