LPS immediately suspends referring accounts to debt collections, Board to consider policy and procedure changes

Lincoln Public Schools announced on Wednesday it has suspended referring additional families to collections effective immediately, and will recall current accounts with the collection agency. In addition, the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools will continue to work with LPS Nutrition Services to use donations designated for meal debt to address delinquent accounts.

The Lincoln Board of Education will consider a staff proposal that revises school district policy and procedures around student school lunch debt at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The Board asked for staff to review current policies and procedures in light of LB 855 being introduced by the Nebraska Legislature this session. 

The first proposal is a policy revision to add the following language to Board policy 3530:

“The Associate Superintendent for Business Affairs is not authorized to utilize an outside collection agency for an uncollected or uncollectible accounts in which the negative balance is accumulated from the purchase of student meals.”

Currently, LPS uses the My School Bucks platform to manage student accounts for meals. Families can put money in their student’s meal account or pay meal debt by taking cash or checks to the school, or by using the online application for My School Bucks. The account can be set up to notify families of low balances based on what threshold the family prefers. 

Once a student’s meal account balance goes below zero, the families will receive an automatic communication via phone and email (twice a week) notifying them of the negative balance. If an account stays at negative $50 or more for over 30 days, then the debt is removed from the My School Bucks account system, putting the balance back to zero, and sent to a collection agency. Students who have a zero or negative balance still receive a full regular meal at school. The Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools receives donations towards negative student meal accounts and the LPS Nutrition Services staff work with the Foundation to apply the donations to families in need.

Proposed changes to district procedures to address concerns outlined in LB855 include the following:

  • Negative account balances will no longer be sent to collections. Instead, it will stay in the My School Bucks account management system and LPS staff will follow up with families in an effort to collect funds. Families can set up their own payment system using My School Bucks.
  • Families will continue to receive the automatic phone and email messages (twice a week) until the negative meal balance is resolved. The communication will include a link to the federal Free and Reduced meal application.
  • Once the student’s meal balance reaches negative $200, the family will receive a letter with information about the federal Free and Reduced meal application, an LPS staff member to contact if the family experienced a change in circumstance and the student now qualifies for Free or Reduced meals, and a person to contact if the family has experienced a hardship and is in need of assistance or a connection to resources.
  • Following federal nutrition program requirements, LPS will transfer a negative balance that is three school years old from the My School Bucks system to the student’s Synergy account logging it in the student information system and pay the nutrition services department from the general fund.
  • The district goal continues to be keeping negative balances as low as possible. The general fund is the fund that pays for staff and operation of the school district.
  • LPS staff will work with families to find resources and solutions to pay the negative balances.  LPS will reach out to other school districts in an effort to learn best practices and develop processes to collect payment on negative balances internally.
  • The Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools will continue to work with LPS Nutrition Services staff to apply donations to school meal debt.
  • Families and students who utilize the federal Free and Reduced meal benefits continue to be kept confidential and receive the same meals as all students who participate in the school meal program. 
  • LPS will continue to seek to expand the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) for as many schools as possible to provide as many students as possible access to free meals. Currently, LPS has eight elementary schools that qualify as CEP schools.

A presentation on the proposed changes for Board consideration will be presented by LPS Associate Superintendent for Business Affairs Liz Standish at the regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The meeting will be livestreamed on the LPS website, or on the LNK-TV Education Channel.

Published: February 22, 2024, Updated: February 22, 2024