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20120411-LJISD-Healthy-School-Lunch-Program-004LJISD could lose close to $100 million for their free lunch program if “over-claims” in the school district are not controlled before the next audit in December. A fourth grade student at LJISD’s Jose Escandon Elementary School selects from a wide variety of healthy food during the lunch break in April. Progress Times photo by Doug YoungLA JOYA – La Joya Independent School District is trying to rectify problems found during state audits  of the district’s free school lunch program.  Two previous audits by the Texas Department of Agriculture—one in December and one in March—found thousands of over claim meals. If the school district fails the next audit slated for December, they could lose reimbursements for the free lunch program for five years.

According to LJISD Superintendent Alda T. Benavides, there were two different types of findings in the school lunch program audits that could affect their eligibility for the free lunch program.

The PS1 finding, which is counting and claiming, has to do with counting of meals served. If records show a district served a certain number of meals and that district submits a claim for more meals than actually served, that would be a PS1 finding.

A PS2 finding, food production records, has to do with menu planning, menu records, nutrient analysis and the supporting document that goes with it. If there is a finding with a particular menu item as to the amount served, that could cause a PS2 finding, said Benavides. The Texas Department of Agriculture can disallow all meals either at the campus or district-wide for the meals containing that particular menu item.

In either case, she said, it would cause an “over claim.”

Benavides said to rectify the situation the district must make sure they prove they have controls in place to eliminate all PS1 and PS2 findings. There is no magic number, she said, of what is allowed. They just need to prove they have put controls in place.

She said there previously has not been an issue with the audits since probably the early 90s.

Board member Isaac Sulemana said during a recent board meeting he was not fully aware of the situation or the severity of it until the discrepancies became public and reported in an area paper.

Sulemana added that as a board they need to make sure to take all steps necessary to protect their reputation in the community and with the Texas Department of Agriculture. It is their responsibility to do so for the community, parents, students and taxpayers, said Sulemana.

This is a question of competency, he said. The competency within the department needs to be evaluated very closely.

The district could lose meals for up to five years if they do not pass the next audit, costing the district close to $100 million, said Sulemana.

“I make a promise to the community that whatever the situation, that we as a board will work diligently to make sure the students of La Joya ISD will continue to see their free lunch,” he said. “This is something we need to take seriously.”

The district has a current enrollment of 29,009 students. Nearly 92 percent of those students use the free lunch program.

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