Lunch-line ID cards sweeping The City

A system that allows students to pay for meals with a swipe of their ID card, currently being tested at four San Francisco public schools, could soon speed lunch lines and save millions of dollars districtwide.

The point-of-sale system is already installed at Balboa High School, Marina Middle School and Bessie Carmichael and Tenderloin Community elementary schools. In addition to getting kids through the cafeteria quickly, the system allows the district to track eating habits and order food items more efficiently.

Mission High School senior Brittany Hester said she wishes the program was at her school.

“The card swipe sounds a lot better [than paying cash],” she said. “You can get in and out, and get a lot more done at lunchtime.”

At most district schools, students currently pay $2 cash for a cafeteria lunch. The card system draws from a debit account or is free for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. This helps keep a students’ socioeconomic status private, though Mission High School sophomore class president Deanthony Jones said that isn’t a factor when he and his classmates go to the cafeteria.

“It wouldn’t be an issue — most are on free or reduced lunch here,” Jones said, adding that he’d still like the convenience of the card.

Installation of the point-of-sale system throughout the district could cost $1 million, according to district Nutrition Director Ed Wilkins.

The San Francisco Unified School District applied for a $1 million grant in 2006 to pay for the point-of-sale system but was denied, according to Dana Woldow, co-chair of the district’s student nutrition and physical activity committee.

Additionally, the district’s committee that oversees voter-approved Proposition H funds from The City indicated earlier this year that it would use a portion of those school-enrichment funds to finance the program’s expansion, according to Wilkins. However, Superintendent Carlos Garcia has temporarily frozen those funds because of concerns that state budget cuts will cost the district an estimated $40 million.

Woldow is optimistic, nonetheless, in part, because once the system is installed, it could save the district significant amounts of money.

Each fall when students return to school, it takes six weeks for them to reapply for free and reduced lunch status; during that time, no students pay for meals. That costs the district more than $300,000 a year, according to Wilkins.

The high-tech system also saves money by collecting data on what students actually order, and how much — a process now done entirely by hand at each high school, Woldow said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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