Funding is always a major concern for any Education institution, and for obvious reasons. That’s why schools and districts spend so much time and energy meticulously applying for grants and other opportunities.
However, many schools seem to miss out on one very helpful source of funding: School Nutrition reimbursement.
Why Reimbursement Matters
Reimbursement money is a key component to the success of a school’s Nutrition program for the simple fact that those dollars add up. Consider the adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” If Benjamin Franklin was so excited about one penny, just think what he would’ve thought about the chance to save six pennies, per meal, through six-cent reimbursement.
When you keep an eye on the smaller line items, you gain more control over that larger dollar amount that seems to dictate what your School Lunch program can and cannot do month to month and year to year.
How to Get More Reimbursement Dollars for Your School Nutrition Program
The best way for your School Nutrition program to get more reimbursement dollars is simply to stop missing out on the money you already should be getting.
In our 30 years of experience here at Harris School Solutions, we’ve found that there are two primary ways that School Lunch programs tend to miss out on reimbursement money:
Problem 1: Kids don’t want to eat your school’s lunches.
Obviously, when fewer students eat the lunches you’re serving, there are fewer meals for which to claim reimbursement money.
But why does it happen? Why would students choose not to eat in your cafeteria?
There are two reasons.
They don’t like the food.
For some kids, it may be as simple as not liking the food choices. When school nutrition programs do not take the time and effort to evaluate which foods kids like and do not like, or fail to make the necessary modifications, it can result in low participation.
You can find out if your program is offering food that the students want to eat by paying attention to inventory (what do you constantly need to re-order and what doesn’t seem to be going anywhere), seeking feedback from your servers (their direct interactions with students can provide valuable information), or even taking a walk around the cafeteria during lunch time and talking to students yourself to get a general feel for what they are and aren’t excited about.
Or, an even easier solution that provides much more accurate insight is to have your students rate each meal. It’s not as difficult to do as you might think. Take a look at EZSchoolLunch to learn more.
They don’t want to wait.
For other students, the reason they don’t eat in the cafeteria is that they feel they would need to wait in line for too long and would rather spend that time hanging out with their friends.
Anything school administrators can do to shorten the wait time (or the perceived wait time) can directly improve student participation. Solutions to shorten the wait time for your lunch line include:
- Adding serving periods so that fewer students are in the cafeteria at one time.
- Using a more efficient Point-of-Sale (P.O.S.) system in your cafeteria.
By making sure you’re offering students something they will deem “worth purchasing,” and removing or decreasing the barrier for them to make that purchase, you will increase the amount of meals sold and, as a result, increase the amount of reimbursement dollars you receive.
Problem 2: It can be difficult to count (and claim) the meals accurately.
Once you get the students in line and purchasing meals, another issue affecting reimbursement dollars sometimes arises: failing to accurately count and claim those meals.
Counting and claiming oversights occur in a number of ways.
Outdated Student Enrollment Data
One cause of inaccurate meal counting and claiming is student-enrollment data not being up to date.
For example, imagine this scenario:
A student enrolls in your school system in the morning. Later in the day, the student goes to the cafeteria to eat but the student is not in your cafeteria’s P.O.S. system. If yours is like many School Lunch programs, you likely will feed the student anyway, believing that you can catch up later. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget to backtrack and officially “serve” the meal in your P.O.S. system.
Sometimes this can go on for a day or two before the student is fully enrolled and, therefore, recognized in the P.O.S. system. In larger districts especially, if this happens even a handful of times per week, your School Lunch program potentially could miss out on claiming hundreds of meals over the course of the school year.
Another cause of inaccurate meal counting/claiming for reimbursement stems from offsite meals.
Some of the more outdated P.O.S. systems are site-based. This means that the student can only be served a meal in the school she or he attends. However, the reality these days is that students sometimes receive services in a different school than the one they normally attend. When the student attempts to eat at the other school, the meal goes unrecognized. If the site manager of this other school does not remember to call or email the cafeteria manager at the enrolling school, another reimbursable meal has been lost.
Again, if this happens even a few times per week, by the end of the school year a lot of reimbursement money will have gone unclaimed.
Glitch-Prone or Non-Integrated Software
Some outdated technology systems have a site P.O.S. that runs independently from the central office. That means that once each day, a School Nutrition program team member has to transfer, manually, the site data to the central office module. If the software is “glitchy” or otherwise fails to push this data, or if the data becomes corrupted (remember, we’re talking about older technology), this can cause meals to go unaccounted for and reimbursement dollars to be missed.
Inefficient Team-Member Processes
Even if you have a great P.O.S. system, it can be tempting to record the meals you serve on a paper roster, simply out of habit, and then after your students are served, to go back and transfer all the meal records into the computer. The result here is inefficiency and, often, inaccuracy. Any time someone has to touch a transaction twice, it creates one more opportunity for an error to occur.
The best way to overcome all of these issues related to miscounting, forgotten claims, and other inaccuracies is to invest in a P.O.S. system that offers:
- Reliability — as in, it doesn’t suffer from glitches.
- Integration — meaning the information in your system is kept up-to-date in real time with your central office’s enrollment data and also that your system is able to interface with (or speak to) the software that other schools use (so you won’t miss those offsite meals).
- Configurability — so you can set it up in a way that enables your team to use it instinctively, which will make your team more willing to use the software even as the students are coming through the line (instead of going back to the software after having entered the data onto paper).
Every penny counts, but remember: it takes money to make money. By wisely investing time, energy, and money into the solutions explained throughout this article, you’re setting up your program to save even more in the long run.
When you look at the big picture, it’s easy to see how investing in a better P.O.S. system makes “cents!”