La Joya school district officials have added new controls for the district’s free lunch program they say should help pass a state audit later this year.
The district is in danger of losing federal funding for up to five years for the program after successive state reviews showed it was distributing an excessive number of free lunches.
The Monitor reported in September the district is currently paying about $1.5 million out-of-pocket each month for its free breakfasts and lunches for low-income students.
“We have implemented new accounting and claiming systems that are verified on a daily basis,” said Alexandra Molina, a former consultant hired full-time by the district in August.
Molina, now the assistant director for child nutrition services at the district, said administrators have begun filing claims with the state within 10 days after the end of each month.
School board trustees received an update on the program in executive session this week, but did not discuss the issue or take any action in open session.
More than 90 percent of students at La Joya campuses rely on the program for free breakfasts and lunch.
The Texas Department of Agriculture, whose staff oversees the Federal School Lunch Program, in November 2011 found the district had served an excess of more than 4,600 lunches in one month. A further review in March of this year showed an excess of 3,200 lunches served, leading to suspension of funds.
A third review in December will determine whether those funds will be restored or suspended for up to five years. La Joya child nutrition staff has continued filing claims for lunches served so far this year. Reimbursement to the district could be made after a successful review in December.
The reviews are based on both the district’s accounting methods and an examination of the district’s menu.
Among other measures taken to prepare for the audit, the district split its child nutrition services into a business operations department headed by Assistant Superintendent Alfredo Vela and a cafeteria operations department headed by Molina.
The district also submitted its menu of meals to the U.S. Department of Agriculture after consulting with Region One Education Service Center.
Among other measures, the district also issued new passwords for all employees and temporarily reassigned employees from other departments to assist with accounting and secretarial work.
Superintendent Alda Benavides said this week she was confident the district would be prepared for the audit.
“I think the steps that we’ve taken so far show that we’re (going) in the right direction,” she said.
Andrew Kreighbaum covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at email@example.com and (956) 683-4472.