Like many residents of Mentone, I was saddened by the announced closing of Moon Lake Elementary School. The school’s outstanding faculty and staff, headed by principal Mary Lance, have worked hard to make sure students excel academically, as shown by the school’s A rating over the last three years. As a retired educator, I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with Moon Lake students after we moved to Mentone in 2018. The children were thoughtful, creative, and kind, reflecting the priorities of the school community.
Small schools like ours have, over the last forty years, been closed and consolidated with larger schools, due to funding. Costs for buildings and for personnel have risen over the years, so I expected to hear that the costs of salaries and benefits, utilities and insurance had made it impossible for DeKalb County to keep Moon Lake open. While those costs were mentioned as factors, one of the Board’s overriding concerns appeared to be the reported figure of $600,000 in school lunch debt, an amount that accrued over many years.
An article on CNN in May of 2019 stated that 75% of school districts in the US have school lunch debt. “Though the median amount of unpaid student meal debt for school districts is $2,500, there’s significant variance. School districts reported debt ranging from the single digits to more than $856,000,” according to the School Nutrition Association. (https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/17/us/unpaid-school-lunch-debt-trnd). Keeping in mind that the figures shown are for school districts and not for individual schools, this makes the $600,000 debt at Moon Lake even more puzzling.
I hope that in the interests of good governance and transparency the Board of Education can offer citizens of DeKalb County more information about how a small school could have accumulated such an extraordinarily large debt. My aim is not to cast blame but to understand how the program works so that we can be assured going forward that this does not happen at any other local schools.
Before retiring, I worked at a school that was, like Moon Lake, a Title I school, with high numbers of free and reduced lunches. These meals, provided by hardworking school cafeteria staff, helped keep children fed during times when their families were struggling financially.
I hope the Board will provide specific information that helps us better understand funding for this important program.
Cynthia Anne McLeod, Mentone, Alabama
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