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More parents pay meal debts: Willmar School Board adopts new policy for collecting overdue accounts

Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Students go through the lunch line April 26 at Willmar Middle School. The Willmar School Board on Monday adopted a new policy laying out a procedure for collecting overdue meal accounts – from families with the means to pay – that includes such consequences as students being barred from activities.1 / 2
Briana Sanchez / Tribune file photo Students go through the lunch line April 26 at Willmar Middle School. A new policy for collecting overdue meal accounts was enacted Monday. Many parents have begun making arrangements to pay the debts since the new policy was first announced.2 / 2

WILLMAR — Parents have begun to make arrangements to pay their school meal account debts to the Willmar Public Schools.

At a special meeting Monday morning, the Willmar School Board adopted a new policy laying out a procedure for collecting overdue accounts.

After several contacts with parents, the district could turn to conciliation court to collect what it's owed. If parents fail to make arrangements to pay after a court judgment, their children in middle school or high school could face consequences, including being barred from an extracurricular activity or from a school dance or prom.

Board member Linda Mathiasen, a member of the Policy Committee, suggested that publicity about the new policy might have caused families to make payment arrangements rather than risk repercussions for their children.

Board Vice Chairman Mike Reynolds said the new policy would apply only to families that did not qualify for free or reduced-price meals. It would affect "people who have the means to pay, per federal guidelines, and are choosing not to pay," he said.

During registration this school year, parents began to pay off their debts or to set up payment plans, said Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington.

There are no families whose children are in jeopardy of being barred from activities or dances, she said.

As registration continues before the first day of school Sept. 5, more families may settle up with the district, she said.

Superintendent Jeff Holm said the district would "never consider those final consequences" for children whose families made "even a minimal effort" to pay their overdue accounts.

"Even if we did reach that point, we certainly would not do anything publicly that would embarrass a student," he said. "It wouldn't be discussed any way other than privately and discreetly."

Another Policy Committee member, board member Scott Thaden, called the consequences in the policy "extreme measures for extreme cases."

Also at the special meeting, the School Board canvassed the vote for the Aug. 22 special election. Mary Amon of Willmar won the election with 591 votes to 202 votes for Monica Villars. A third candidate, Katherine McGill, withdrew from the race before the election and received 5 votes.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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