We know school budgets are tough, but this seems extreme: The Cranston School District in Rhode Island has hired a collections agency to go after delinquent lunch accounts. The Providence Journal reports that a letter mailed to district parents announces that “The new collection agency, Transworld Systems, will begin pursuing debtors in January,” going after unpaid balances as low as $20.
The district has previously written off almost $100,000 in school lunch debt. This year, the deficit is hovering around $45,000, and previous efforts by the district to collect the funds have been unsuccessful, as students have been running up their lunch accounts without the funds to pay for them. The school district told local TV station NBC 10 that the collection agency will be taking a “soft approach,” with requests for funds delivered via the mail rather than phone calls.
Lunch deficits appear to be a pretty common problems for schools: On one hand, no one wants schoolchildren to go hungry; on the other, strapped school districts have a hard time dealing with this large of a deficit. Earlier this year, the state of Washington outlawed “lunch-shaming,” in which funds-strapped students were offered lesser meals of milk and bread, or were stamped on the hand to indicate their debt.
The Cranston schools’ chief operating officer, Raymond L. Votto Jr., explained to parents in that letter that “the district lunch program cannot continue to lose revenue.” However, he fortunately stressed that no student will be denied food: “Obviously we continue to feed our kids no matter what the balances are.”