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Cash becoming a thing of the past at Western Pennsylvania schools

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:40 p.m.
Joey Mata, a junior, types in his PIN number to pay for lunch in the cafeteria at Pine-Richland High School on Thursday, Jan. 31st, 2013. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Josh Cherry, a sophomore, waits as food service worker Ashley Golla enters his lunch selections in a computer at Pine-Richland High School, Thursday, January 31st, 2013. Students are able to enter a pin number, and the cost of their lunch is electronically deducted from their account, greatly reducing their need to carry cash. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Victoria Remo, a sophomore, enters her pin number to pay for her salad at lunch in the cafeteria at Pine-Richland High School, Thursday, January 31st, 2013. The cost of the salad is entered into a computer/register by food service worker Charlene Flaherty (left.) Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Ross Ivey, a freshman, hands over cash to Alison Celigoi, a sophomore, to pay for flowers he purchased in the cafeteria at Pine-Richland High School on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. While students are able to pay for many items with electronic deductions, sometimes cash is still necessary, such as for this school choir fundraiser. Keith Hodan | Tribune-review
Alison Celigoi, a sophomore (left,) and Olivia Folmer, a freshman, count the cash raised for their flower sale fundraiser for the school's choir at Pine-Richland High School, Thursday, January 31st, 2013. While students are able to pay for many items with electronic deductions from an account, sometimes cash is still necessary. Keith Hodan | Trbune-Review

While their parents likely remember the days of protecting lunch money from school bullies, today's students have little reason to carry cash to school, they say.

The prevalence of Personal Identification Number, or PIN, systems and online ordering has taken a burden off staff who handle transactions for everything from lunch purchases to yearbook orders.

“Rarely do kids need cash, if ever,” said Michael Sable, principal of West Mifflin Area Middle School.

As is true at many Western Pennsylvania schools, students in the district don't need cash to get through the lunch line. Students simply punch their PIN into a keypad, and the cost of the meal is subtracted from an account their parents can monitor and replenish online.

“It's easier than giving money,” said Dennis Foy, 11, who like many of his fifth-grade peers has never had to bring cash to school for lunch. “You don't have to wait in line long.”

At Quaker Valley School District, parents can pay online for yearbooks and order class rings and graduation announcements, as well as pay in advance for their children's food service.

“Essentially, if a vendor has a website for these sorts of services, students can order online,” said Tina Vojtko, district spokeswoman. “It's basically students just going to a vendor's site and buying things.”

Eliminating cash transactions makes things easier on everyone from cafeteria workers to teachers, educators say.

“Not having to worry about an envelope filled with cash and checks in my desk is a load off my mind,” said Rob Hooton, yearbook sponsor and technology education teacher at Bethel Park High School, where students order yearbooks online.

Pine-Richland School District students and parents can pay online or by check for activity fees, yearbooks and meals.

“We discourage cash transactions at lunch time,” said Cherry Cerminara, general manager with Sodexo, food provider for the district. “It's a lot faster, especially with the little ones.”

Cafeteria manager Linda Fulmer has been with the district for 24 years and remembers the days of counting change. She said she greatly prefers the current method.

“You don't have to worry about putting your money in your pocket or your locker and it not being there,” she said.

Freshman Chelsea Rourke, 15, of Richland says she likes that she doesn't have to bring a purse to school.

“The only reason people bring money is for the vending machines,” she said.

Senior Austin Lent, 18, of Wexford likes the efficiency of his school's lunch system.

“It's easy,” he said. “You don't have to worry about money that way.”

While purchasing lunch is as easy as remembering a number, students can still find themselves in cash-only situations.

During a recent lunch period, Pine-Richland students selling flowers for an upcoming dance accepted dollar bills only.

And that meant some advance planning, in an era of PINs.

“We put up signs so people know to bring money during lunches,” said freshman Olivia Folmer, 14, of Richland.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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