School District Turns Students' Lunch Debt In To A Collection Agency

by Thea Glassman
Originally Published: 
Image via JGI/Tom Grill/Getty

A school district hired a collection agency to take care of their lunch debt issue

Cranston School District in Rhode Island is taking a new, more aggressive approach to their lunch debt issue. In a letter written to parents, Raymond Votto Jr., chief operating officer of Cranston Public Schools, explained that the district has been struggling to obtain overdue payments from families.

Their solution? Hire a collection agency to hunt down the money.

Votto noted that the school district’s previous attempts to collect lunch money from parents has been “without much success.” Between September 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018, the school district wrote off $95,508 in lunch debt. They still have a balance of $45,859.

“In an effort to reduce our unpaid balance, the District has retained the services of a collection agency,” Votto wrote. “The company is Transworld Systems and they will begin their collection efforts effective January 2, 2019.”

Cranston School District’s lunch costs $2.50 for elementary students and $3.25 for middle and high school students. If parents owe $20 or more in lunch fees, they’ll receive a letter from a collection agency after 60 days — though the school district tells NBC10 the collection agency won’t reach out to parents over the phone.

“The District lunch program cannot continue to lose revenue,” Votto said. He noted that students who owe overdue payments will still receive the same meals that other students are given. “We’re feeding the children,” he said. “That’s not in dispute. We offer free breakfast.”

The issue of lunch debt and subsequent variations of shaming is a national one. Last year, an elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona stamped students’ wrists with the words “lunch money” when their parents were late in paying the bill. Two years ago, a cafeteria worker at a Pennsylvania elementary school quit her job when she was forced to take away a student’s hot meal because he had an unpaid lunch balance.

Thankfully, strangers across the country have stepped up and helped out students who can’t afford their lunches. In 2016, writer Ashley C. Ford took to Twitter to remind people that they can help pay off children’s lunch debts – and people responded big time. Two months later, donors raised $100,000 to cover food payments at Minneapolis schools and $28,000 in St. Paul’s schools. According to Mental Floss, thousands of dollars more were donated to schools across the country.

Here’s hoping we’ll reach a point when good Samaritans don’t have to cover lunch debts and families no longer have to worry about being harassed and shamed by their school districts.

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