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Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
When the new school year starts Aug. 22, among the many marching orders officials face will be trying to remove as much of one thing as possible from their schools: cash.
The Palm Beach County School District wants to expand and promote the online “cashless” system it unveiled two years ago, district treasurer Leanne Evans said. The cashless system allows parents to pay for their child’s lunches and other items, such as yearbooks, online with a credit card.
“It limits the amount of cash flowing through our schools. It adds a lot of transparency to our system,” Evans said. Between August 2010 and the end of March, students and their parents used the cashless system to pay for $6.6 million in transactions .
In response to accounting issues discovered by district auditors, such as missing records of cash collected for school fund-raising events, school board members this year asked district officials to expand the capacity of the cashless system so district officials would be handling less cash and there would be less chance for thefts.
School police and auditors recently completed an investigation of more than $13,000 missing from the safe at Congress Middle School in Boynton Beach. A few months ago, they asked the state attorney’s office to seek theft charges against the former school treasurer.
Board Chairman Frank Barbieri has said he wants to see as many cash transactions removed from schools and put onto the cashless system as possible, including payments made by community groups to lease school facilities.
The cashless system is shutdown over the summer as district officials are working on upgrading it.
Right now the only people who can use the system to make purchases are parents who log in with an account number assigned to the student. But the district is adding a public access portion that will allow anyone to make purchases for tickets to school football games, concerts and other items.
Churches and other community groups spent more than $4 million leasing school facilities last year, according to district officials. Evans said the district is working on creating an online mechanism that would allow those leases to be paid for online with credit cards next year.
Meanwhile, Evans said, she is meeting with principals over the summer to try to develop ideas to better market the existing system so more parents and students use it.
While some schools had more than 40 percent of their students using the cashless system last year, according to a district report, seven schools had less than 1 percent of students use it.
Pleasant City Elementary School in West Palm Beach was the lowest with 0.25 percent of students using the system. Evans said some of the issues with utilization have to do with students and parents in poorer areas lacking access to computers and credit cards.
Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton had the highest utilization, with 60.5 percent, or 744 of the 1,229 students, using it.
“We really encourage it,” said Don Estridge Principal Karen Whetsell. “It’s less work for bookkeepers and less people touching the money.”
Palm Beach County School District Online Cashless System: palmbeach.schoolcashonline.com