Battle Ground School District student lunch debt wiped clean by anonymous donor

The $40,000 donation covers active student lunch debt for nearly 1,900 students

BATTLE GROUND — UPDATE: More good news! The Battle Ground Education Foundation stepped up to pick up the remaining balance of $1,713.85. The story has been updated to reflect this fact.

With a virus raging across the country, and schools shut down at least for another month, many families face a great degree of uncertainty these days.

Battle Ground Schools Superintendent Mark Ross serves lunch at a school in the district. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools
Battle Ground Schools Superintendent Mark Ross serves lunch at a school in the district. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools

But at least the families of nearly 1,900 Battle Ground School District students will come back with a clean slate when it comes to school lunch debt.

“It’s amazing,” said Meagan Hayden, the district’s chief financial officer. “It is basically going to wipe away all of our outstanding negative lunch accounts that students have.”

The gift of $40,000 was provided anonymously through the Morgan Stanley Gift Fund. The remaining $1,713.85 was picked up by the Battle Ground Education Foundation, meaning all active debt has been wiped out.

“The foundation has been paying balances for student lunch debt for a few years now,” said Foundation President Colleen O’Neal. “It’s part of our kids in need effort.”

O’Neal says the foundation routinely pays off debt amounting to thousands of dollars every year, focusing mainly on reduced lunch students. This donation, she says, was incredibly welcome, especially at this time.

“I was thrilled, because it’s one less thing for our families to have to worry about right now,” said O’Neal. “In this time, the more we can take off their plates, the better.”

Student lunch debt is a relatively new concept, Hayden says. Previously, students who ran a negative balance could only get an alternative meal, such as a cheese sandwich. The federal government stepped in a few years ago, calling that “lunch shaming,” and mandating that students receive the same meal as everyone, no matter the status of their account.

“And so that’s why you’re seeing this growth and all of these lunch balances,” Hayden says.

Battle Ground Schools Board of Directors member Mark Watrin serves lunch at a school in the district. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools
Battle Ground Schools Board of Directors member Mark Watrin serves lunch at a school in the district. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools

The $41,713 student lunch debt doesn’t represent the total owed to the district. Twice a year, any student account owing more than $100 goes to collections and comes off the active debt amount.

While many districts have a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, Battle Ground has a higher number of students who pay full price.

“So this is really going to be helpful right now,” says Hayden. “Especially in this time where there are a lot of parents that are probably wondering how they’re going to pay their next mortgage or utilities, or having their businesses shut down for two weeks during this time.”

Hayden says the $40,000 donation is the largest she can remember, though they regularly have people contribute a few hundred or even a thousand dollars towards student lunch debt.

“This is huge,” she says.

The Amboy Middle School lunch crew poses for a photo. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools
The Amboy Middle School lunch crew poses for a photo. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools

It’s also a burden off of the school’s administrative office, which is tasked with reaching out to the parents of students carrying lunch debt. 

“By the time it gets up to $60, there’s been at least five different kinds of contact. And then once it gets over $100, then we’re taking it to collection,” Hayden says. “A lot of that work that’s being done is going to be wiped away.”

Battle Ground Schools Superintendent Mark Ross serves lunch at a school in the district. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools
Battle Ground Schools Superintendent Mark Ross serves lunch at a school in the district. Photo courtesy Battle Ground Public Schools

In terms of how the donation is allocated, Hayden says free and reduced lunch students will be the first to have any debt paid, then any accounts where parents have been making regular payments on the balance. Beyond that, they work to pay off balances where parents have been in contact, but haven’t been able to make regular payments.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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