Schools are boiling in school-lunch debt

Schools nationwide are feeling the pinch of unpaid school lunches, as more news reports show debt rising every week.

As of Oct. 14, Virginia Beach City Public Schools said unpaid lunch bills have increased to $237,268 since the district scrapped a program of serving only a cheese sandwich to students who were delinquent, reports PilotOnline.com. Students can now eat school lunches and add $2.75 per plate to their tabs.

VBCPS has raised prices, reached out to parents via email and phone, and sent some accounts to the city’s collection office, to no avail. "It's something we're constantly trying to figure out. Ask me in a few months and we'll probably have a different answer," John Smith, VBCPS’s director of food services told PilotOnline.

Turning delinquent accounts over to collection agencies is a route districts are increasingly taking. FoodService Director recently reported that Minn.-based Anoka-Hennepin School District hired a collection agency for the $160,000 debt it is owed.

According to Noah Atlas, tdirector of the district’s child-nutrition program, the accrued I.O.U.s came from only 1 percent of students—370 students out of the district’s 38,000.

The collection agency will start contacting indebted families in January.

Other districts are no longer giving lunches on credit to students who are already in arrears. But the business-driven decision often backfires. This fall, Missouri’s Columbia Public Schools decided to limit delinquent students to a cheese sandwich, apple and water. The district changed its mind because of the backlash from parents. The district’s unpaid lunch charges hit $130,000 in July.

After ending last school year with $3,327 in lunch debt, Virginia-based Staunton City Schools  this fall, mandated $25 as the cap for accrued lunch debt before a student is given an alternate meal, the News Leader reported.

Amanda Warren, coordinator of the district’s nutrition program told News Leader that although unpaid bills hurt their program, they would not deny students a meal.

“Parents know there are no repercussions and students know the same thing. They know we’ll feed them,” said Walter Campbell, executive director of the nutrition services department at Charleston County School District—which has a debt of more than $500,000, The Post and Courier reports.

WKYT.com reported earlier this summer that residents of Franklin County in Kentucky washed cars for several days, donating the more than $400 to Franklin County Public Schools to help pay its accrued lunch debt of $21,000. “We’re going to do this until the deficit goes away. And if that takes a year then so be it,” Scott Ellis, a Franklin County resident, told WKYT.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesman for the SNA, told FSD that school nutrition professionals are passionate about ensuring students have access to healthy meals. But when families pay to fail for them, the expense can impact the quality of the food service for all students.

In the association’s State of School Nutrition 2014 Report, nearly 71 percent of districts reported that their school nutrition program had student meal debt by the end of the prior 2012-13 school year.

Key findings indicated that although the median debt was $2,000 per district, the amount of debt ranged (depending on the size of the district) from $2.00 to $4.7 million.

“Unpaid meal charges are a tough issue for any school district to manage, particularly now that the updated nutrition standards have raised the cost of producing school meals,” Pratt-Heavner said. “Many districts are struggling to cover those costs, leaving less funding to offset unpaid meal costs.”
 

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
Senior Living Staff Cafeteria

FoodService Director recently spoke with operators across the country to see how they’re handling today’s labor challenges. One was Moe Memmolo, general manager for dining services at Taylor Senior Living Community in Laconia, N.H. Read on for his thoughts.

FSD : What’s your short- and long-term outlook for staffing, and what’s the most significant challenge to staffing?

MM: Laconia is part of what’s called the Lakes Region. It’s a seasonal enclave with many vacationers, a summerlong concert venue and an event called “Bike Week.” This all means competing with even more employers,...

Menu Development
Spicy Ramen Noodles Pork Shoyu Miso

Instant ramen has long been a go-to meal or snack for college students.

But the ramen being ladled up now in dining halls and other noncommercial venues is culinary light-years beyond those cellophane-wrapped packets. The broth alone can take a couple of days to make, the ingredients may be sourced from Japan—or at the very least, from an Asian distributor—and even the noodles may be made from scratch.

Authenticity is key. Or is it?

Ramen fuels a new concept

The Omori Ramen Bar debuted at Boston University in January, with input from the BU community to nail the...

Industry News & Opinion

As the topic of food insecurity continues to roil college campuses, the University of California Santa Barbara is seeking to meet its students’ needs with the addition of a second food pantry, which debuted last fall.

Miramar Food Pantry, which is open three days a week, is available to any UCSB student who qualifies, according to The Current, the news section of UCSB’s website. The pantry took over the space of a former retail market and is being run and funded by the university’s Housing, Dining and Auxiliary Enterprises.

“We’re supplementing what we get from the Foodbank...

Sponsored Content
Voyagers counter

From our partner LTI, Inc.

Building out a serving line comes with its fair share of challenges. Layout and design decisions come first, but operators must then decide how they plan on implementing that layout. Chief among those considerations is whether to use a modular or a customized one-piece serving counter.

When deciding on which type of counter, it becomes important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of both. Doing so will ensure counter chosen will meet the facility’s serving needs and will also help avoid issues in areas such as cleaning, electrical...

FSD Resources