Going after lunchroom scofflaws

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

By Elizabeth Pattman

Staff writer

Isle of Wight County school district is considering the option of hiring a collection agency to go after unpaid lunch money from students, with most of the debts being less than $10. 

In the past two years, the Isle of Wight County schools have accumulated more than $25,000 in food services debt, according to a financial presentation given at this month’s School Board meeting by Rachel Yates, executive director of budget and finance for the school district. 

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To address the issue, Yates discussed the possibility of hiring a collection agency to settle student debts. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

According to Briggs, of the 867 students that carry a debt, 478 of those students owe less than $10. Fifty-four students owe over $100, eight owe more than $200 and one student owes more than $300, she said. The median debt amount is $7, according to Briggs.

According to a Feb. 13 report, Isle of Wight County schools had $25,306.17 in food services debt, according to school spokesperson Lynn Briggs. According to Yates’ presentation, $13,917.37 of the outstanding debt was from last year. This debt has been paid by the school system to food service providers, but the unpaid charges remain on student accounts, Yates said. 

Yates also explained $4,196.85 of debt belonged to students no longer attending Isle of Wight schools. 

The debt accumulated this year, which totaled $7,191.95 when the report was compiled, appears to be on par with last year’s trend and it is expected that the schools will see equal amounts of new debt, according to Yates. These numbers continue to change daily, according to Briggs.

Yates said most of the debt belonged to students who paid full price for lunches, rather than students in the reduced price lunch program.

Currently, there is no punishment for students who carry debt on their account, according to Briggs. The schools have the option of prohibiting seniors who carry a lunch debt from walking during graduation ceremonies, however this has not been done in many years, according to Briggs. 

In years past, the school provided cheese sandwiches as lunch to students who carried a debt, however the School Board did not want to deny students access to a regular meal. This alternative lunch offering was discontinued in 2016, she said. 

In an effort to collect unpaid student debts, cafeteria managers at the schools make weekly calls home when a student account has an outstanding balance and the Child Nutrition Department sends letters home monthly, according to Briggs. If a student’s outstanding balance reaches $25, a letter is sent home from the finance department as well.

“This debt is an expense for the division and, as she stated at the meeting, covering this outstanding debt draws funding from other areas such as instruction,” said Briggs in an email. 

During the meeting, Yates offered perspective to the School Board by explaining that the amount of food services debt accumulated each year is almost equivalent to the $14,000 it costs to refurnish a classroom, but that money is lost to lunch debts.

The School Board is still investigating the possibility of hiring a collection agency, according to Briggs. She said most of the vendors that the district has spoken to require a flat fee per account, whether they collect money from the students or not, which did not interest the School Board. As the Board continues to look into the possibilities, it hopes to find an agency with a fee structure based on the amount they collect to ensure that the schools see some financial return from their efforts, according to Briggs.  {/mprestriction}