HELENA Helena School District leaders said they are reevaluating how to address about $100,000 in unpaid charges for school meals.
The district announced last week that they might look at hiring a collection agency to recover some of that money.
Superintendent Jack Copps said, immediately after that announcement, leaders received a number of calls from people concerned the district was further pressuring families who were already struggling.
“It created a false impression that we were really going out of our way to try to target those who really do not have the means to pay their indebtedness at this point,” he said. “That was not what we intended.”
Copps said the use of a collection agency will be a “last resort.” He also said the district will focus its efforts on trying to communicate with families who can afford to pay off the debt.
“We are going to be insistent that the people who have the means pay their debt,” he said.
District data shows about 20 percent of the debt comes from students who now qualify for free school meals. In those cases, the debt accrued before the students were approved to receive free meals.
“It’s silly to put that obligation on the people who cannot afford lunches at this point,” Copps said.
An online crowdfunding effort was started, to help reduce the student meal debt. By Wednesday evening, it had collected nearly $4,000.
Copps said he is interested in using those donations to cover some of the unpaid charges for students who now receive free lunches. The district would then forgive the rest of the debt.
“We’re going to clear off the remainder of that amount, we’re going to start over,” said Copps. “So those people in that position will not have any indebtedness at the close of this school year.”
Annie Hanshew, who started the crowdfunding effort, told MTN Wednesday that she has not yet met with district leaders, but she said she is willing to offer the donations to the district as soon as they can come to an agreement on how they should be used.
Hanshew said she wants to continue the fundraising effort, even after the end of the school year, in hopes of covering more of the outstanding debt.