Frantic phone calls home for more lunch money could become a thing of the past in the Omaha Public Schools.
Within the next month, OPS expects to roll out a new online payment program for school lunches.
Once the service goes live, parents will be able to digitally deposit money into student lunch accounts using a credit or debit card.
The district is finalizing its contract with the payment processing company, but it hopes to have the service ready by the end of February, according to David Patton, OPS's executive director of information management services.
Parents have been asking for an online payment options for years, but the district held off due to concerns over student privacy, data security and OPS's older Internet network, Patton said.
This year, the school board and Superintendent Mark Evans pushed to make it a priority project.
“It doesn't make sense in this day and age for our parents to not be able to use an online environment to refresh their child's account,” Evans said.
School districts including Elkhorn, Millard and Papillion-La Vista have added online payments in recent years using different software.
Currently, parents in OPS have to send in cash or checks to replenish lunch accounts that are running low. With the new software, parents will be able to follow a link off the OPS website, create an account with their student's name, identification number and, in the case of elementary students, their homeroom teacher's name. They then can add money with a debit or credit card.
“It'll be a convenience to add money through a debit card, online, rather than write a check and send a kid to school with it,” Patton said.
In light of recent high-profile data breaches at retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus, the district understands some parents may have concerns about security. The firm selected will have to meet all banking regulations, and no financial information or credit card numbers will be stored by OPS, Patton said.
OPS's nutrition services division will continue its practice of contacting parents when account balances run low. Some school lunch software include features like an automatic replenishment option that deposits money once an account hits a certain level and an option that lets parents peek at what foods their child is buying.
The online payment program will be optional. There will be a convenience fee for those who use it, but the amount is still being negotiated.
“We're not requiring that people now use this,” Patton said. “They can still stop by the front office and pay. It's just an added benefit or convenience to families that want to take advantage of it.”