Columbia Public Schools is implementing new procedures on how to handle unpaid school lunches.
If a child’s lunch account has more than $50 of delinquent payments, it will be sent to a third-party collections agency.
If a student’s account is delinquent, they will still receive a regular meal, however meal substitutions would not be given to non-allergy students.
“Students aren’t responsible for those bills, it is their parents and their guardians who are responsible for those bills,” CPS Director of Nutrition Services Laina Fullum said.
Delinquent accounts do not allow students to buy any a la carte menu items, even if they have cash to pay for it.
These changes will go into effect when school resumes after winter break on Jan. 3.
“Balances are actually increasing rather than decreasing, and so we have to figure out a way to make sure that parents are informed of how much they owe first and foremost so they can keep up with their billing,” Fullum said.
“I think it’s very important that the school system get reimbursed for the lunches,” CPS parent Jennifer Roberts said. “I think they try very hard to strike a balance between making sure the child who might be hungry and needs to eat that day isn’t punished because their parents didn’t pay the bill.
“If there are families out there that are struggling and actually qualify for either free or reduced price meals I want them to know that we allow applications all year long,” Fullum said. “It won’t actually affect the student, because at the point of service they’ll still eat a regular meal, they won’t know anything more about it.”
Fullum said the recovery service, “is definitely sensitive to our families needs and will work with them if they need to do some sort of a payment plan.”
CPS says there’s more than $101,000 of past due lunches and it is in the hands of the collection agency.
The table below shows a breakdown of the more than $101,000, with some of the money from students no longer enrolled in CPS.
Table courtesy of Columbia Public Schools.
“It might sound like it’s a very affordable lunch, but the fact is, it adds up,” Roberts said. “Sometimes there’s a misnomer out there thinking that it is our free parents and guardians, when it’s really actually our paid students who are the delinquent accounts.”