Parish schools consider online lunch payments

By: MACK SPENCER

CENTERVILLE — The days of forgetting school lunch money may soon be over in St. Mary Parish.

The school board’s Food Service Committee voted to recommend the services of MCS Software and SchoolPaymentSolutions.com to the full board for adoption next month.

The web site will allow parents to check their students’ cafeteria accounts online and keep them in the black by making payments with a credit or debit card.

“Maybe only 10 percent of your parents will use it when it starts, but that will grow as people start to learn about it,” company president Jeff Meral said.

In order to use the service, parents will have to create an online account. Parents with more than one child can include all of their children in the same account, using their school ID numbers.

Receipts for transactions can be e-mailed, and parents will be able to set up e-mail reminders to be sent when a child’s account runs low of funds.

While parents will have the convenience of paying from home, they will have to go to the site each time a payment is needed.

The program “cannot autocharge unless you eat the fee,” Meral told the board. “Visa regulations say you can’t charge a (convenience) fee without someone physically going to click each time” a payment is made.

A few districts have built convenience fees into their lunch prices to avoid charging a fee for each transaction and allow parents to set up an autopayment to students’ accounts, Meral said, but most have not.

The convenience fees are used to pay the credit card companies’ 5.75 percent charge for performing transactions. Meral said many of MCS’s clients charge $2.75, which is the break-even point on an average transaction of $45.

Committee members did not discuss whether or how much to charge as a fee.

Districts from California to Florida to New York use MCS Software and SchoolPaymentSolutions.com to accept online school lunch payments, with the largest concentrations in Louisiana, with 45 clients; Mississippi, with 30 clients; and Colorado, with 24 clients.

All of the surrounding parish school systems in Assumption, Iberia, St. Martin and Terrebonne use the service.

Food service director Mary Grimm-Howard told the other committee members that the district’s cafeterias and managers are ready to implement the service once the full board gives its approval.

Meral said his company usually asks for a week to get everything in order, but set-up for the program usually takes about a day. He recommended that the district start on Sept. 1, so there is plenty of time for parents to put fees through the system during the month.

If $2,500 is not put through the system during a month in which the system is active, a small service fee is charged by the company, up to $200 on a sliding scale. If the minimum threshold of $2,500 is met, there is no fee to MCS.

The full board is expected to take up the recommendation at its Aug. 11 regular meeting.

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