Students at Rapid City Area Schools have nearly $85,000 in unpaid lunch fees

BreakfastRAPID CITY, S.D. – Parents whose children attend one of Rapid City Area Schools (RCAS) received bad news on Tuesday. In an email, the district disclosed that there are $84,500 in school lunch charges that have gone unpaid.

“This is not an abnormally large amount of unpaid debt for RCAS, and is consistent with what the RCAS has accrued in years past,” said Krista Leischner, Student Nutrition Manager for RCAS.

The district does not ever refuse to let a child eat, but this means that students are able to accrue a significant negative balance in their lunch accounts.

“As a reminder, school lunch is provided to every student who wants one whether there is money or not in his or her account; however, families are responsible for keeping a positive balance in their meal account. RCAS current negative meal account balance is $84,500,” the district said in the email.

In August, the district’s universal free lunch program, funded by COVID-relief funds, came to end. Since then, student lunch debts have continually piled up.

The debt was as high as $70,000 in November before two local businesses, Nerdy Nuts and the Independent Agents Association, donated $25,000 each. Now, only four months later, the debt is as big as ever.

According to Leischner, “negative balance accrues at approximately $2000 per day.”

The impact of unpaid lunches has an impact on the ability for the school district’s nutrition program to operate. Child Nutrition Programs (CNPs) operate financially independently of their school districts, and fund themselves through a combination of reimbursement through the Department of Agriculture and student payments.

“When the program serves a meal and does not receive payment from families for that meal, only part of the cost of that meal is covered. Meanwhile, the program has to continue to operate, meaning food continues to be purchased, staff continues to be paid, etc,” Leischner said. “The program, like others across the nation, has experienced drastic price increases of food and supplies and additional fuel surcharges this school year.”

Students from low-income families can qualify for free or reduced-price meals. For information about how to apply, see the RCAS website here. Households receiving SNAP or TNAF (commonly referred to as “food stamps”) qualify for free meals automatically.

The school also allows donations from the public to cover students’ unpaid lunch fees. At the time of publishing, the fundraiser had raised just over $10,000.

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