Jeffco schools to charge fees for online lunch payments
Jefferson County Public Schools swallowed nearly $500,000 in fees last year related to a program that allows parents to make online deposits to cover the cost of their kids’ lunches.
Starting this fall, the $2 billed each time money is transferred into a student’s account will be charged to their parents.
“The reality is, if we could continue to absorb these costs, we would happily do so,” said the district’s chief operating officer, Steve Bell. “Our alternative was to have higher meal fees, but we have chosen this route because it is cheaper still for our parents.”
The MealpayPlus online deposit service is offered as a convenience to parents. It keeps kids from having to bring a check or cash to school.
MealpayPlus sends e-mail alerts when account balances drop, allows parents to set spending limits and helps to keep track of what their children eat. Those services remain free.
Parents can still avoid the fees by visiting the school with a check or sending cash with the students to put into the account.
When Jefferson County schools started using MealpayPlus about five years ago, the district could afford to absorb the fees, which at the time were smaller. Bell said administrators knew then that they might not always be able to foot the bill.
This year, anticipating declines in the state’s K-12 funding, the district cut $40 million from its budget.
Aurora Public Schools uses a different vendor for a similar program and passes through fees. In Aurora, parents are charged $1 per transaction when they make online payments or deposits using a credit card.
The fee offsets the vendor’s merchant and transaction fees.
“We know some parents don’t have the ability to come into the school all the time to bring in the money,” said APS spokeswoman Georgia Duran.
The cost of the convenience, however, can add up with small deposits. “Some parents pay day-by-day because their kids might not eat school lunch every day,” Duran said.
Douglas County schools and Denver Public Schools have a similar service, but those districts are still allocating a portion of the budget to cover the fees every year.
While the majority of the benefits are geared toward parents, school districts enjoy efficiencies and larger food sales, officials said.
“We don’t have to have people handling money. It’s a lot less work for school staff because it all goes through” MealpayPlus, Bell said.
By Yesenia Robles