Shawnee Mission leaders concerned over $16,000 in unpaid bills from lunch policy

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Leaders in one metro school district complain they're getting stuck with a big lunch bill -- more than $16,000 worth.

Last fall, Shawnee Mission School District leadership implemented a new plan meant to give every student a full lunch, and then assess the meal costs to their parents or guardians.

However, four months later, the costs are adding up.

Now, Shawnee Mission School District administrators plan to collect that sum of money from parents who haven’t paid bills for their students' school lunches.

But David Smith, SMSD spokesperson, said district leaders aren’t sure where they’ll collect that cash if parents still won’t pay.

In November, district dietary managers explained students who couldn't pay for a full lunch were given a cheese sandwich and a small carton of milk. The new policy made sure they got a full meal.

The policy was introduced to reduce the threat of lunch-shaming by students. District leaders passed along stories from other principalities where students who couldn't afford a full meal, or had an outstanding bill on their accounts, were being bullied by their peers.

"We would love to be able to figure this out," Smith said Wednesday.

He said before this plan, Shawnee Mission schools had $4,500 in unpaid lunch bills. Now, it's close to four times that amount.

According to Smith, for now, those unpaid bills will be covered by the district's operating budget.

"We can't just pretend that it's $16,000, and we're not going to worry about it. We've got to pay attention to it. We have to be intentional about figuring that out, but we're not there yet," Smith told FOX4.

"It's not so much abuse. For some of our families, it's a choice between not having the resources. Does my child get a cheese sandwich or a full meal?" he said.

Smith explained the Shawnee Mission School Board will consider the whether or not to make changes in the lunch policy in April.

In the beginning, critics of this program stated they feared abuse, or that the district would see costs add up without opportunity to recover the money. Smith said educators kept a month-by-month tab on how big that budget deficit was growing.

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