Lunch money mess leads to reprimand -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lunch money mess leads to reprimand

December 26, 2004

Albany - The Dougherty County School System's Finance Director is reprimanded for costly mistakes in the school lunch program. The Georgia Department of Education is working with the school system to fix the lunch program problems.

The Dougherty County School Superintendent says no one will be fired because of the budget mess. The system's Child Nutrition Service ended up with a 3.9-million dollar budget shortfall. Program managers underestimated food and labor costs to the federal government, so the system was reimbursed much less money than it should have been. Now, the system is trying to repair the costly damage.

The state department of education swooped in when budget mistakes were sparked by poor accounting and complicated computer software. "Assistance from state department of education is coming for child nutrition and finance," said Superintendent Dr. Sally Whatley.

A technical consultant is working with the staff to better use child nutrition software. Also, a state auditor came in to make sure accounting problems were remedied. "I'm having weekly, if not daily, progress reports from the state director," said Dr. Whatley.

The Nutrition Program Director, Stan McWhorter, resigned because of the mess. Now, the superintendent has issued a letter of reprimand to the Finance Director Robert Lloyd. "I'm confident that rather than financial oversight here, we should have done a much better job of management of the child nutrition program," said Whatley.

To make up for the budget shortfall, school board members agreed to end the universal free lunch program. Elementary students will pay $1.25 for lunch and middle and high schoolers will pay $1.50.

More than 5,000 students, whose parents are on food stamps, will still get free lunch. All students will get a chance to qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The change has parents like Sherron Johnson, who has three children in the Dougherty County school, trying to figuring out how they'll pay for the lunch. "I know it will be rough on us," said Johnson. "Our plan is to fix their lunch so they can take it to school." A decision school officials don't want parents to choose because they need the lunch money to build back up the depleted nutrition program fund.

The school system is also transferring some costs from the child nutrition budget to the general fund to try to help offset the shortfall.

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