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posted: 7/11/2012 3:41 PM

District 70 moves to cashless system for school lunches

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By Robin Kollman
Libertyville Elementary District 70

Libertyville Elementary District 70 parents will be able to prepay for their child's hot lunches in the fall as the schools progress to a swipe card system.

The school district is buying every school a machine that will read special swipe cards and will set up online accounts for families so they can load money onto the cards before school starts Aug. 22.

The details are being worked out over the summer, said Kurt Valentin, the district's assistant superintendent of finance and operations, "but it is our plan to have this up and working the first day of school."

School board members are pleased with new program, saying it will meet a need in the community.

"This is something parents really want," board member Anne Brandt said before the board voted recently to approve the new system.

The system is expected to speed up the lunch process at Highland Middle School, where lines are slow as a majority of students buy a la carte items and pay in cash.

Cash will no longer be accepted at the middle school. Leftover lunch tickets traditionally used at the elementary schools will be honored until they run out and are replaced with swipe cards.

While the district has been considering a cashless lunch system, Valentin said members of the Family Association of District 70 have inquired over the last few years about putting such programs in place. The timing seemed right, he said, now that the food service provider -- Chartwells School Dining Service -- has been in place for two years.

Parents are expected to receive information about the new system, My Nutri Kids, in the back-to-school mailings. With the new system, parents also will be able to monitor what food their child orders at school, as well as keep track of the monetary account.

District 70 will send out notifications when funds in the account dip below a certain amount, Valentin said. Parents can use credit cards, debit cards and even PayPal to add funds.

Eventually, middle school students will be able to use their school identification cards to swipe lunches and will be given pin numbers in case they forget their IDs. Temporary cards are expected to be used at Highland until photo ID cards are made with student photos.

Elementary students will have swipe cards that will be handled only by teachers and lunchroom employees. The homeroom teacher will send down the appropriate cards each day for the hot lunches ordered by students. Lunchroom employees will then swipe the cards after lunches are served.

The change isn't so much a money saver as it will be a time saver as everyone will move more efficiently through the lunch lines, Valentin said. The move also will help Highland students prepare for lunch in high school, as Libertyville High School also uses a swipe card system.