DALLAS — The Dallas School District food service program will end the year with about a $20,205 deficit, including $18,579 in unpaid meal accounts.
Debbie MacLean, the director of fiscal services, requested the Dallas School Board allow a transfer up to $30,000 from another account to balance the program fund.
“Last year, we had a $25,000 loss, so we are marginally improved from last year,” MacLean said. “We had a healthy ending-fund balance to offset that last year. We don’t have that this year.”
She said food and labor costs as a percent of revenue worsened slightly from last year, increasing from 97 percent to 98 percent. MacLean said the should be between 80 percent and 85 percent.
MacLean said she and the manager of the program will talk to food service employees to find ways to streamline costs.
“I’m sure they’ve got a lot of ideas … to help us be more efficient,” she said. “I just want to collaborate with them, because they are right there on front line.”
She added that she will have a plan to reduce unpaid accounts to present to the board in August. Dallas isn’t the only district struggling with unpaid accounts after the passage of House Bill 3454, which ended the practice of giving students a different meal than other students received if their accounts were overdue. However, it also took power away from districts to enforce collection of unpaid bills.
MacLean added that federal guidelines governing school meal programs require no negative balances.
“We’re left to subsidize the loss,” she said. “That is taking dollars from our classrooms.”
The board previously authorized sending bills to collections. MacLean said she will begin doing that in the 2019-20 school year, but will give parents a lot of notice and assistance.
“I haven’t had the opportunity or the resources to really follow up on that yet. I apologize for that,” she said.”It needs to be done. That will be my goal, to have that recommendation before you in August.”
She said, that way, communication with parents over the policy change can begin before the start of school. Payment plans will be among the options for families.
“If you have a payment plan, you would not get sent to collections,” MacLean said. “I’m hoping to design it in such a way that parents have every opportunity to not go to collections if they just work with us.”
Staff will offer to help fill out the application for the free and reduced-cost lunch programs, she said.
“There’s financial help for families that need it,” she said. “If the form itself is a barrier, then I really want to offer help for folks who might need help navigating that. It looks worse that it is.”
The district received a donation for $3,455 to pay for overdue meal accounts for graduating seniors at Dallas High School, Morrison and for Lyle Elementary School. That is in addition to another donation received in 2017-18.
“We’ve also watched this for two years continually grow, even through we’ve received over $10,000 in donations to help with this,” MacLean said. “It would be worse if not for that.”