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APS Seeks Sandwich Alternative

By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
          Albuquerque school district officials said Friday they may be willing to stop giving cold cheese sandwiches to children with delinquent lunch accounts if the community can pay most of the $100,000 debt.
        However, school board member Jon Barela said he fears that rescinding the policy will push the debt up, as deadbeats and others return to charging meals without penalty.
        "We don't want to be bailing people out of their responsibility because they know the community is going to step up and pay this bill," Barela said.
        Students receive a cheese sandwich in lieu of a hot meal if they have exceeded a set amount of charged meals, ranging from two at high schools to 10 at elementaries. The district has already collected $40,000 of the initial $140,000 debt in the three weeks the policy has been in effect.
        District officials met with anti-hunger advocates on Friday to work on an agreement that could be presented to the school board during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Albuquerque Public Schools City Centre.
        Randy Royster, Albuquerque Community Foundation executive director, said within a 90-day period, his organization is willing to raise money for the $50,000 debt incurred by children who have since qualified for the federal free and reduced price lunches.
        However, the anti-hunger officials said they would not accept a policy that still includes an alternative meal because it stigmatizes children. They said APS should use collection agencies and other enforcement to go after deadbeat parents.
        At one high-poverty school, five families that owed $100 or more per child were rejected for the free lunch program after showing incomes of $100,000 or more, food services director Mary Swift said.

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