The Transylvania Times -

Ask Us: School Lunch Program November 4, 2019


November 4, 2019

Does Transylvania County have a school lunch debt program?

If there is a debt, then do the schools practice “shaming” the students at lunch period? Does the Board of Education have any policies against shaming?”

Transylvania County Schools (TCS) Superintendent Jeff McDaris responded: We do have some problems with families owing lunch debt, but we don’t want students to go hungry.

Our charges have always been within reasonable limits compared to some, but we are beginning to see some parents and/or children who are working around the system and leaving us with large charge balances.

Currently, 70 percent of the meals TCS serves are free or reduced-price meals. This percentage is about 75 percent nationwide.

The majority of our lunch charge issues are with families that do not qualify for free and/or reduced lunch but who are slow to pay or not sending money with their children.

We work with students and their families. Typically, when a student has charged a third time, we ask him/her to call home. Unfortunately, the amounts are getting out of control and we are now chasing down $70 or $100 at a time in debts. We actually encounter a handful of families who refuse to pay or always pay slowly because they are not being held in check with the requirement of having to pay.

The children who still need to turn in lunch applications for free or reduced meals at the 30-day mark are required to call home and make contact, which also helps to resolve the issue without undue charges building up. Based on projections and pace from last year forward, we will have about $4,000 in unpaid debts we will have to work with families on this year.

Here is a sampling of how other counties are working with this issue, according to Carolyn Barton, director of nutrition services for the school system:

•Charlotte-Mecklenberg does not allow charging at high school.

•McDowell County does not allow charging at high school.

•One large system that went public with fundraising to cover charges went from $100,000 to $300,000 in outstanding charges in one year.

•Asheville City Schools recently had over $30,000 in unpaid meal charges and has written a policy that requires the manager to remind the child every day if they owe money.

•Haywood County also had an issue with $40,000 to $50,000 in charges a few years ago but then went back to the old system of cutting off charges and calling home.

•Henderson County allows the principal to decide if they are going to allow charges, and places the burden on the principals to collect.

Henderson also requires the child to speak with the principal or manager if they want to charge over the charge limit.

This is what we used to do here at TCS, which does keep the charges in check. We are looking at this again.

These large amounts always end up being paid from the system, and schools don’t really have the funds to do this.

We try not to be in this situation.

When the child has to go to the principal to call home, the principal is able to make contact with the parent and explain the situation.

This is done in private and not in front of others.

We try to express to the parent that the child needs to bring money in order to eat lunch. This often helps end excessive lunch charging.

We are beginning to call home more frequently again.

This does help.

But as mentioned, the majority of our lunch charge issues are with families that do not qualify for free and/or reduced lunch and who are simply slow to pay or not sending money with their children.


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