Student lunch debit cards go online in fall

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
June 7, 2008

GUILFORD — Public school students may no longer need to worry about forgetting their lunch money.

Starting this fall, the school district will issue student IDs that double as debit cards, allowing students to swipe at the cafeteria cash registers to pay for lunch.

All schools now have new cash registers with debit card capability.

Students will still be able to use cash to pay for lunch, but Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said the district is encouraging parents to take advantage of the debit card program.

“Especially at the high school where we have a very large volume and the lines can be a little bit longer, we’re hoping that with quicker service, the students will be more likely to buy the school lunch rather than just grabbing some food out of the snack line,” Forcella said.

The new identification/debit cards, which all students will receive in the fall, will include a photo and bar code. To load up the cards, parents will have to send a check or cash to the school district starting Aug. 1.

The PowerLunch program, as the district is calling the new cafeteria system, is part of an online information system that the schools started using last fall. The system allows parents to see their children’s grades and progress reports, and Forcella said that PowerLunch will allow parents to monitor what students are eating for lunch.

“Parents are concerned about their children eating healthy lunches,” he said. “In the past where they would just give them a few bucks for the lunch, they didn’t always know what their children were buying.”

The new computerized cash registers will also allow the schools to track what products sell well or not in cafeterias, which the district operates on a break-even model.

Board of Education Chairman William Bloss said the new system should work more smoothly for parents and students.

“If you’re just swiping a card rather than handling cash, it’s just that much more efficient, and also it’s probably good to avoid having children carry cash if they don’t need to,” he said.

“It allows people to track purchases and budget more clearly, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been scrambling around to find a couple of dollar bills to give my kids early in the morning. This will hopefully end that practice,” Bloss said.

The Board of Education is also considering raising lunch prices starting in the fall.

Meals are $2 in the elementary schools, $2.30 in middle schools and $2.70 at the high school. A la carte sandwiches and other items are also available at some schools.

The district is proposing an increase to $2.30, $2.65 and $3.10, respectively.

Bloss said that rising wholesale food prices have led to the proposed increases.

“What it is designed to do is come closer to covering our operating costs. With the increases in wholesale food prices, we are not close to breaking even,” he said. “With the (meal price) increase we will be closer, but our goal is not to run the food program as a profit center; it’s simply to break even or come as close as possible.”

The board is due to vote on the price increase at its regular meeting Monday.

For more information on the debit card service and how to add money to the cards, visit http://www.guilford.k12.ct.us and click on “PowerLunch.”

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