Charged Meal Balance Improves in GCS

The amount of school meal charges left unpaid in Guilford County Schools (GCS) decreased by 56.8 percent between December 2011 and December 2012. GCS staff members accredited this reduction to a plan that was adopted this school year to address the number of meals charged at elementary and middle schools.

The plan, which established a cap on the number of meals that can be charged before an alternative meal is served to a student, has limited the amount of unpaid charges to $125,806 as of January. In previous years, charges have totaled more than $200,000 or $300,000 at this point in the school year.

Data reported to the Guilford County Board of Education shows that 10,361 student meal accounts have outstanding charges and 2,054 accounts have charges in excess of $17.50, which is the limit on the amount a student can charge before an alternative meal is served. Cafeterias in GCS have served 12,829 alternative meals this year.

Before GCS put a charged meal plan in place for the current school year, the district faced unpaid meal charges that averaged $500,000 annually. These charges required the district to transfer general funds to Child Nutrition, which operates as a self-sustained account.

In addition to limiting the number of meals that can be charged and serving alternative meals, the School Nutrition Department has worked with schools to increase the communication parents receive about unpaid charges through letters and regular Connect-ED phone messages.

"The data we've collected shows that significant progress has been made in reducing the balance of charged meals," said Angie Henry, chief financial officer. "Many schools in the district are having great success in following the new process. The data also reflects there is still room for continued improvement. We are working to identify ways to address some challenges we've faced and will continue to monitor the charged meal balances through the end of the school year."