A new policy regarding paying for school lunches will go into effect at Madison Consolidated Schools this fall.

On Wednesday, the Madison School Board approved the second reading of an amended policy which will provide alternative lunches to students with a negative balance of $25 on their lunch accounts at the elementary schools.

Superintendent Dr. Ginger Studebaker-Bolinger said the reason for the policy change is because of a recent audit.

"Because the Federal Lunch Program is a federal program, we are not ever allowed to run that program in the red," she said. "So, we have to pay for any balance in the negative at the end of the year with our General Fund money."

The superintendent added that, of the students whose parents ran an outstanding balance during last school year, 87 percent did not qualify for free or reduced lunches under the Federal Lunch Program.

For a person with a reduced lunch plan of 40 cents per meal to get a $25 negative balance, it would take 62 days of eating lunch without paying, Bolinger said

"That's a long period of time students can go without paying for lunch, even at a $25 balance," she said.

Board Secretary Linda laCour was one of several board members to raise concern over the idea of the revised plan at last month's board meeting.

"Joyce (Imel) and I have been going back and forth, and back and forth on this, and we've tried everything we can think of," she said.

laCour said the two discussed several ideas, including letting students with a negative balance continue to receive a free school breakfast while they have a negative account.

"But then they're just going get further in the hole," she said.

laCour said she worried about the 13 percent of students who are on reduced lunch, but still have a negative balance.

"On the other hand, it doesn't seem fair to taxpayers to be feeding children whose parents are able to do that."

"I'm still reluctant, but it seems like the lesser of the evils"

Board member Joyce Imel said she too felt reluctant, but "I feel like I've been painted into a corner by the federal government."

"Unfortunately, I feel like we don't have any other choice," Joyce Imel said. "We can't afford to pay other people's debts out of the general fund."

The board also discussed establishing a fund people could donate to that would help pay for regular lunches for students with outstanding balances.

Under the new policy, elementary school students with a negative balance of $25 would be served an alternative lunch of either a peanut butter sandwich or a cheese sandwich with juice until the balance is paid.

The student also won't be served breakfast until the balance is paid. Parents will be notified when the balance is negative.

At the junior high school, five school lunches can be charged to the school. After those five lunches, students can receive a peanut butter or cheese sandwich with juice for free until the charges are paid. Parents will be notified after the second charge.

No charges will be allowed at the high school, so students who can't afford the regular school lunch will receive a peanut butter or cheese sandwich and juice.

Meal balances will follow students and be forwarded from school to school each year.

Also at the meeting, the board unanimously approved a motion that will allow students at the junior high school to receive high school credit for algebra 1 and Spanish 1 classes.

The junior high school has been offering algebra 1 classes to eighth-grade students for some time, Bolinger said.

"The state's requirement is, we may offer those courses at the junior high level, but as a board and a school corporation, we need to decide if we're going to offer that for credit or not for credit. It cannot be on an individual basis, and that has been our process in the past," she said.

Bolinger said the change will start in the 2013 school year.

"If a student is taking a course in the eighth grade that is the same standard level, the same assessment level for our high school students, they should receive credit for the course," she said.

Board member Carl Glesing said he's been advocating this change for some time, and is glad to see it implemented.

"I think it's the way to go for kids who want to do it and are capable of doing it," he said. "And I think it's a waste if we don't do it and we could expand it even further in the future."

In other business:

The board approved a budget preparation schedule for the 2014 budget. The board plans to hold an informational budget work session between Aug. 8 and Aug. 13. A public hearing is then scheduled for the regularly scheduled Sept. 11 school board meeting, and a vote on the proposed budget will be taken at the Oct. 9 board meeting.

The deadline to approve the 2014 budget is Nov. 1.

Mike Frazier, interim director of systems, operations and auxiliary services, reported that the crosswalk across Clifty Drive, between the high school and the hilltop McDonald's and surrounding businesses, is nearly complete.

"It's all done except for painting the stripes," Frazier said.

He also took time to clarify that, the crosswalk is between the school and the restaurant, but it was not installed so students could walk to it specifically, or during school hours.

"It's kind of a misconception that we built a sidewalk to get to McDonald's," he said. "If they're over there during the day, they're truant."

Frazier said students cross Clifty Drive before school hours, when being dropped off by parents across the street, and after school, because of extracurricular activities.

Board President Todd Bass said the installation of the crosswalk was a safety issue, regardless of what is across the street.

A school corporation auction is planned for Saturday, Aug. 10, at Dupont Elementary School.

Items to be auctioned include household goods, playground equipment and automobiles the school no longer needs.

"It's a lengthy list of items we've had for some time," Frazier said.

Student records and payroll earning information that stretches back to 1914 will soon be kept digitally.