ST. CLOUD - There was over $8,600 in student school lunch debt in the St. Cloud area school district last year.

School lunch debt was brought into state news headlines earlier this month when it was revealed that the Anoka-Hennepin school district was resorting to debt collectors to recover $160,000 worth of overdue lunch money.

Here in St. Cloud, the problem isn't nearly as bad, but the district revealed they had a grand total of $8,636.89 in lunch debt at the end of the last school year. Those who are on the free lunch program don't contribute to the district debt.

District 742 assistant superintendent Marsha Baisch says if a student goes "into the red" with their lunch account, their family is reminded twice a week until the debt it paid.

"Twice a week we do an automated message to any family that has a child who has a negative balance."

In the Anoka-Hennepin district, nutrition director Noah Atlas has said unpaid meal fees have grown by nearly 50 percent in the last two school years. Any parents who don't set up a payment plan are referred to a collection agency.

Baisch emphasizes that the debt isn't a large concern in District 742 and there will be no debt collectors anytime soon. If a student comes through the lunch line with a negative balance on their account, they will be reminded of the debt and are given a basic lunch (Sandwich, milk, fruit).

"The debt does roll over to the next year at the end of the school year. We want to continue to remind families to take care of that if they can."

In St. Cloud area schools, Elementary breakfast costs $1.50 and lunch costs $2.55. Secondary breakfast costs $1.55 and lunch costs $2.75. Extra milk costs 45 cents each.

The Department of Agriculture leaves crediting of unpaid school lunches up to local districts to decide. Baisch says the district is sticking with its gentle reminder system to settle any debts.

"We aren't taking any other drastic measures other than the automated messages and gentle reminders in the lunch line, it's about not creating animosity but helping parents understand that we want what's best for their child."

-This story was written with information from the Associated Press-