An essential part of the school day for every student is meals, particularly lunch. However, not every family can afford to pay for their children’s lunches, which is why many students will eat school lunches every day, as their schools will front the charge. All schools want their students to eat a sustainable breakfast and lunch, even if they can’t pay for it. This premise is admirable, but the problem lies in the lunch debt the schools rack up at the end of the year for unpaid lunches. If the school doesn’t have money set aside for this debt, they may be forced to take money from other programs at the school. Ellwood City Schools, facing this predicament, have decided to bring in a debt collector to collect the unpaid lunch fees.
It All Comes Down To The Numbers
The Ellwood City Area School District has recently decided to hire a debt collector to collect unpaid school lunch fees from families. Though this method may seem a bit drastic to some, according to Superintendent Joseph Mancini, “Just like anybody in life, you pay your bills. Otherwise, it’s going to collection. That’s a reality.” He has been encouraging parents who cannot afford to pay for their children’s school lunches to apply for free or reduced meals at SchoolCafe.com. The school has even offered assistance in filling out the applications. Ultimately, the school cannot afford to pay the lunch debt, which is expected to be around $30,000 by the end of the year.
In September of 2019, the local Baierl Toyota of Cranberry Township donated $21,000 to pay off the school district’s lunch debt. Unfortunately, this money was only a short-term fix for a more significant issue. According to administration, the lunch debt had surpassed $3,600 just weeks after this hefty donation was made. At this point, the debt has reached $8,200, and the district has decided that this can’t go on. If the lunches are not paid for by the families, the school will be forced to take the money out of their general fund, which is used to pay for other school programs. Therefore, the district plans to send the bills to collection in March of 2020. Still, the superintendent says that students will not suffer from their families’ unpaid bills, as students at Ellwood City Schools will always be served a full breakfast and lunch no matter their financial circumstances.
Though hiring a debt collector is the last thing any school wants to do, it seems as if the Ellwood City Schools had no other choice if they wanted to preserve their school programs. I understand the fact that these bills need to be paid by the families, and I agree to some extent, but a part of me wonders how the superintendent believes that the students won’t be negatively affected. Yes, students will always be served meals, which is great, but these meals will continue to put the families who cannot afford them into deeper debt, which they can’t always pay off when the large bill comes in the mail. What about when students start pretending they have home-made lunches to offset the debt? What about when a student’s family has to shut off the heat in their household to be able to afford to pay the unpaid lunch bill? I’m not saying that the families shouldn’t pay their bills because I get that it’s an unfortunate part of life. Still, I think the district should reevaluate how its students will be affected by this change and brainstorm ideas, such as fundraising, to help ease the burden of those who don’t have the finances to pay off these bills.
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.[Image Attribute: woodleywonderworks]