Debt collectors are newest school lunch tool

Districts turn to collectors to help close budget gap.

May 14—A lot of school-aged kids are getting free lunches, not because they are backed by the government's free and reduced-lunch program, but because parents haven't been paying off lunch bills, forcing a number of districts to foot the cost.

Already weighed down by budget cuts across education systems, districts can't afford to take on yet another addition to climbing costs. As a result, several across the country have resorted to hiring debt collectors, employing constables and switching out regular meals for lesser versions in a push to get parents to pay up.

As of last February, New York City schools had absorbed some $42 million in unpaid lunch fees since 2004, according to The New York Times. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina recently appropriated $40,000 to cover unpaid lunch fees, the Daily Tar Heel reports.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is adding an additional $200 in dining dollars to each student's dining plan this fall, The GW Hatchet reports.

The boost comes just a year after the university switched to an open-format dining plan that allows students to spend their entire meal fund off campus; allowed venues include about 90 grocery stores and restaurants.

While students support the new plan, they are concerned about dining affordability. In conjunction with discounted meal deals that were implemented last semester, school officials hope the extra $200...

Ideas and Innovation
french press

While a French press isn’t a tool found in most noncommercial kitchens, operators might want to think twice about multiple uses for this fancy coffee maker. Staff at the Hard Rock Cafe are using the French press to muddle fruit and alcohol for their mixed drinks, while at Chicago bar Moneygun, bartenders use a French press to blend spices and tea for hot toddys.

Ideas and Innovation
student food tray

Stories of students who can’t pay for lunch being given a subpar meal or shamed for their debt have proliferated in recent years, and it’s not an uncommon problem. The SNA’s 2016 School Nutrition Operations Report found that about three-quarters of school districts had an unpaid student meal debt at the end of last school year, an increase from 71% of districts reporting debt in 2014.

Government has begun to take action. In April, the USDA issued new regulations mandating that schools implement unpaid meal policies by the start of the 2017-18 school year and clarifying that schools...

Ideas and Innovation
iris camera

Biometric payment technologies such as finger and palm scanning are slowly emerging in foodservice operations, including the University of Maryland’s transition last fall. But the future may be leaning toward a more hands-off approach.

George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., was looking to speed up its meal-swiping process alongside a new unlimited dining plan. Iris cameras , which take a photograph of an eye that is converted into data that cannot revert back to a photograph, won out.

Danny Anthes, senior manager of information technology, says two factors stood out in...

FSD Resources