How schools across our area address lunch debt
20,000 meals: The First Coast’s school lunch debt problem
Many schools tell First Coast News that bad debt for their district must be written off as an operating loss and ultimately restored using non-Federal funds. That’s how many went unpaid for during the 2018 to 2019 school year on the First Coast. For many of the school districts, it’s exemplary of a larger problem of food insecurity. The combined total of school lunch debt accumulated on the First Coast for the 2018 to 2019 school year is $43,805, with the highest amount of lunch debt belonging to Clay County Schools at $32,259. Nassau County comes in second with $7,257 in outstanding debt and then followed by St. Johns County Schools at $4,289. No student on the First Coast – regardless of the district – will be denied a school meal because of a negative balance. The kinds of meals that the students with debt receive vary from county to county. Duval County Schools implemented a No Lunch Money Procedure but still serves students a “Substitute meal” if debt reaches a negative balance of $2.50. Nassau County serves all students the same meal regardless of accumulated debt. Many of the counties in our area such as Bradford, Putnam and Baker County schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision, which is a free meal service option for school districts in low-income areas. Even with many of those schools having little-to-no school lunch debt, there’s still a larger problem at play. Engine 15 and First Coast Brews are brewing up a beer that will help alleviate the debt that schools in our area have racked up as a result of students not being able to pay for their meals.
CHERRY HILL, New Jersey – The Cherry Hill Public School Board has voted to change its policy on school lunch debt as it works to find a solution to encourage delinquent parents to pay up. The revised policy allows students who have outstanding lunch debt to choose a hot lunch from the ‘meal of the day’ menu but no a la carte items. The latest rule prohibits students with $75 of overdue meal fees from participating in activities like prom, extracurricular activities or buying a yearbook. “If my mom or dad can’t pay for lunch, why should I be restricted from my passions?” said Jacob Graff, a senior at Cherry Hill East. Under the previous policy, Cherry Hill Public School District students owing more than $10 would only be allowed tuna sandwich meals. Once a $20 debt was accrued, the student would not receive any food from the school at all, though 6abc is told this part of the policy was never enforced. “Whatever meal a child walks through the line with and presents the cashier, is the meal they will be fed-whether they have money in their account or not,” said Superintendent Dr. Joe Meloche. The superintendent says that this new rule actually breaks from state policy which requires that meals be withheld. There is an outstanding lunch debt of $15,000 in the school district with an operating budget of more than $200 million. In order to collect, the school principal and guidance counselor will reach out to parents by letter, requesting payment. If the debt isn’t paid within 10 days, the administration will make a phone call. If the debt reaches $75, they’ll hold an in-person meeting.
KINGSTON, Pa. – A Pennsylvania school district sent letters to parents threatening that their children could end up in foster care if the students’ lunch tabs aren’t paid. Five of the nine members of the Wyoming Valley West School Board criticized the letter, WNEP reports, but the district’s solicitor has doubled down, claiming some parents need the threat of losing their kids to get them to pay up. School officials said the district has collected more than $500 of the $22,000 owed in lunch money since the controversial letter was sent. Board members said they were blindsided by the letter’s threatening language. Wyoming Valley West School Board Vice President David Usavage said he cringes at the letter’s warning: “The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care.” Four other Wyoming Valley West School Board members agree, as does school administrator Joe Muth who signed that letter sent out to about 1,000 parents. Wyoming Valley West solicitor Charlie Coslett stands by the letter. Coslett said he’s forced 50 families to dependency court for truancy where parents risked having their children placed in foster care because their kids kept skipping school. Van Saun says the letter wrongly assumes all families can pay. Usavage says future letters will be less threatening. “If someone saw it before it was sent out, someone would have red-lined it and said, ‘let’s take these two lines out,'” Usavage said. The Wyoming Valley West School Board now qualifies for enough money to provide free lunches to all students for the upcoming school year.
How You Can Help Students With Lunch Debt
Thanks to the generosity of community members, outstanding lunch debt for hundreds of students in Palm Beach County is a thing of the past. Most recently, a member of the community donated nearly $1,000 to zero out the deficit of 430 students in Jupiter-area schools. Another donor gave $5,000 earlier in the school year. These generous contributions bring the total amount of donations toward school debt this school year to more than $8,600. Even with the continued donations from the community, Palm Beach County students still carry more than $51,000 in outstanding lunch debts. Lunches in Palm Beach County school cafeterias cost $2.05 in elementary schools and $2.30 in middle and high schools. Breakfast is always free of charge in Palm Beach County schools, regardless of financial need, and students who carry a lunch debt are not denied food, according to Allison Monbleau, the director of the District’s School Food Service department. High school students receive a cheese sandwich and their choice of milk or juice. Students whose families qualify for free and reduced lunches can apply throughout the school year. Donor checks can also be made payable to School Food Service and mailed to their office at 3661 Interstate Park Road North, Suite 100, Riviera Beach, FL 33404. A member of the SFS department will contact you about the distribution of your donation to a particular school, group, or free and reduced status, if you choose to specify. For questions about donating to the SFS program, call Lori Dornbusch, Manager of School Food Service at 561-383-2035..