WIC contends with school lunch debt
IRON RIVER — At the end of the 2017-18 school year, the School Nutrition Association reported that 75 percent of school districts nationwide reported having unpaid school meal debt.
Count the West Iron County School District among those districts. At its regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 17, the West Iron County School Board discussed the ongoing issue. Superintendent Chris Thomson said the district had an unpaid school lunch debt of about $7,400 at the time of the meeting.
“(School lunch debt) is getting a lot of news,” Thomson said. “It’s something that I’m going to do some work on because it’s got to be better than it was. We were up over ($8,000, $9,000) and then we got it cut down to four. And now it’s back up to seven.”
Thomson added that the top amount due by a family at the time of the December meeting was around $300 for the duration of years the student(s) has been schooled in the district.
Around the country, school districts are trying to come up with a successful method of collecting these debts. Some are respectful, like through charitable donations, and others are draconian, like throwing a student’s lunch in the garbage if their parents have unpaid debt or stamping the student’s hand with the words “I need lunch money.”
According to the USDA’s Food Assistance Landscape 2018 annual report, approximately 29.7 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program each school day. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides breakfast and lunch for children at either a reduced price or for free. Eligibility requires parents/guardians to fill out paperwork, but some of those families eligible don’t take that simple step.
“The last time we talked about this, there were a number of families eligible for free or reduced, but they just won’t fill out the paperwork,” said trustee Dennis Tousignant.
Thomson said the paperwork is included in any collection letter sent out by the district.
One of the available options for the district is to provide a community-wide free or reduced lunch.