Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Paul Hughes, community representative
- Gail Smith, community representative
Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or email@example.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.
The Steamboat Springs School District made an appropriate, justifiable decision last week to withhold hot lunches from students with unpaid balances on their meal accounts.
While the decision sparked an outcry from some local parents and coverage from media outlets across the state, a knee-jerk reaction of anger toward the school district is not warranted.
This is no Dickensian tale of a hungry Oliver Twist pleading for another bowl of gruel at the orphanage. District officials say every elementary school student with an unpaid account was, and will continue to be, provided with food during their school day. Although the same is not true for middle and high school students, those students are old enough to understand the responsibility of meal costs and manage their eating habits.
This actually is a story of parents simply not keeping up with their children's accounts.
Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert said that when food services staff began withholding hot lunches Jan. 5, the school district was facing about $10,000 in unpaid lunch fees on a total of about 500 accounts. During the past week, those numbers have dropped to about $2,800 in unpaid fees on about 100 accounts, primarily at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Steamboat Springs High School. At Steamboat's two public elementary schools, Huppert said, only a handful of students remain with unpaid accounts.
Soda Creek Elementary School office staff - who have called every local family with an unpaid account at the school - said that despite the number of unpaid accounts, there has not been an increase in requests for free or reduced-cost lunches as families bring their accounts up to speed. Huppert said there have been only a few such requests overall.
The speed with which overdue accounts have been paid and the lack of requests for reduced-cost meals indicate that the vast number of unpaid meal accounts was not because of an inability to pay but because of parents forgetting to pay.
We understand that busy parents can forget things. Every parent has a wealth of bills to pay and things to do - and not enough hours in the day to accomplish it all. But school district staff made every reasonable effort to contact parents with unpaid accounts, well before hot meals began to be withheld last week.
In December, food services staff sent letters to parents of elementary school students with unpaid accounts. Middle school and high school students, Huppert said, were told about their meal account status while receiving lunch during the three weeks leading up to the holiday break.
Ultimately, parents are responsible for making sure students have a good lunch every day. To make sure their child can receive hot lunches at school, parents can create and add to an account on the Web at www.steamboatschoolfood.com. The site also allows parents to monitor their child's food purchases.
Parents also can hand a check to elementary school office staff or food services staff at the middle school or high school.
Huppert and office staff said the vast majority of their interactions with parents who have unpaid accounts have been positive. Local families have been appreciative of the notification and eager to update their accounts.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from the recent school lunch hubbub will be learned by the children themselves, who got a quick lesson on the value of a dollar and paying bills promptly.
That's a valuable life lesson for all, and, in this case, it is appropriate that it came from the school of hard knocks.