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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Hope Daniels (right) jokes Tuesday with her mother Sarah Daniels as they eat together at Sugar Creek Elementary School in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE -- Students won't be denied a hot meal at school even if they lack the money in their account to pay for it.

That's the idea behind the School District's "Every Kid, Every Day" lunch program, which officials announced this week, though it's been in effect since last spring, said Janet Schwanhausser, district finance director.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Aubrey Scallan (left) and Harrison Placzek talk Tuesday during lunch at Sugar Creek Elementary School in Bentonville. Janet Schwanhausser, the Bentonville district's finance director, developed the Every Kid, Every Day campaign to offset the cost of negative lunch balances.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/SPENCER TIREY Blake Crowe (from right) enjoys his Tuesday lunch with Jeremy Shook, Harrison Placzek and Aubrey Scallan along with other fourth-graders from Nicole Anderson's class at Sugar Creek Elementary School in Bentonville.

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For more information and to donate to Every Kid, Every Day, visit Click “Departments” at the top of the page, then click on “Every Kid, Every Day.”

Source: Staff Report

The initiative emerged as district officials discussed how schools were handling students with insufficient or negative account balances and the need for consistency districtwide. Students at some schools were told to go to the office and call a parent, Schwanhausser said.

"We live in one of the best communities in the world, and for a student to be hungry and go to the cafeteria and not get a plate of food, it's unthinkable," Schwanhausser said.

She added any discussion of the student's account should be between the school and the parents and shouldn't involve children, she said.

The district has negative lunch balances totaling more than $10,000. That's about $3,000 more than this time last year, Schwanhausser said.

She estimated 40 percent is owed by parents who simply have forgotten to keep their child's meal account full. Other parents appear to be having financial difficulties, she said.

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The Every Kid, Every Day campaign calls on district staff members and the community to donate to help those struggling families. The district is selling T-shirts for $15 each to offset negative lunch account balances.

"It's the ones who cannot pay we're hoping to really be able to help" with the campaign, Schwanhausser said.

The district had raised $1,075 for Every Kid, Every Day as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Bentonville elementary and middle school students pay $2.85 for lunch. Junior high and high school students pay $3.05. A breakfast meal costs $2.05.

Free and reduced-price meals are available to children of families that qualify under the federal government's income eligibility guidelines. Those families must apply for the benefit.

The possibility families will take advantage of the district's philosophy and intentionally let their student's accounts go into the red is "a real concern for us," Schwanhausser said.

The district sends a text message or email every day and a letter home with the student once a week to remind families of negative balances. Staff members also may call a family, and in extreme cases, a social worker may be sent to the family's home. Such measures will continue, Schwanhausser said.

Other Northwest Arkansas school districts make an effort to make sure all children who need a meal get one.

The Fayetteville School District offers a full, hot meal to students who don't have sufficient money and doesn't deny any student a meal, though they aren't allowed to charge a la carte items, according to Ally Mrachek, the district's director of child nutrition.

The Rogers School District's policy varies by school level. Elementary students may receive meals continually on a "charging" basis; parents will receive at least one notice per week about a negative balance. Middle school students are allowed to charge meals for six days, after which time meals are provided on a pay-as-you-go basis and no alternative meal is provided. High school students may charge for one day only after their accounts show a negative balance.

Springdale students are served a sandwich until their account is out of the red, though most schools don't do that to a first- or second-time delinquency, according to Rick Schaeffer, Springdale's director of communications.

One business decided this week to spread some holiday cheer by paying off negative lunch balances for families at three Northwest Arkansas schools.

Steve Landers Toyota NWA gave $2,003 to Reagan Elementary School in Rogers this week to pay outstanding lunch balances. Michael Hull, general sales manager at the dealership, said he got the idea from a business in Pennsylvania, where he used to live.

"We were looking for things to do for the holidays," Hull said. "We met as a management team and decided it was something we wanted to do."

Laura Quillen, Reagan principal, said the donation paid off most of the school's lunch balances. She's had the chance to make calls notifying some of the families affected by the donation, some of which are on payment plans to erase their debt.

"Parents will at times have challenges," Quillen said. "It's an amazing thing to be able to call and say, 'This is one more thing you won't have to worry about.'"

The donation is "huge," especially at this time of year, when parents are trying to provide some type of holiday celebration for their children, Quillen said.

The dealership also provided $65 to Springdale's Harp Elementary School and about $200 to Bentonville's Mary Mae Jones for the same purpose, Hull said.

NW News on 12/13/2017

Print Headline: Bentonville School District adopts new lunch policy

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