The Helena School District is turning to a collection agency to help recover about $100,000 in unpaid debt for student meals.
In a statement released this week, district leaders called the move a “final effort” to collect the unpaid money. They said the debt is creating a significant financial burden for the district.
Leaders said the $100,000 debt built up over a number of years. According to the statement, about 320 students, each with more than $100 in unpaid meal charges, account for about $86,000 of the debt.
In 2017, the Helena school board adopted a new policy to address unpaid meals. It called on individual school administrators to contact parents or guardians by letter, phone and email to inform them of the outstanding balance.
“Our principals, our teachers and our secretaries understand our families the best, and so they work as much as they can to help alleviate this,” said assistant superintendent Greg Upham.
Upham said a collection agency would only be used in cases where all other efforts have failed. Families will also be offered a payment plan before an agency is involved.
Upham said the district does not want to single out any student for an unpaid meal balance.
“We don’t allow any student to go hungry; we don’t deny any student lunches,” he said. “All students are fed regardless of whether they have debt or not.”
But he said leaders can no longer afford to ignore the debt.
“We just have a mounting debt issue that we really need to work with,” he said.
Upham said the district will likely hire a collection agency in a month or two.