The Newton School District is considering hiring a collection agency to recover money parents owe the district for school lunches. The district’s director of business, Gayle Isaac, told the school board the district is owed over $40,000. She says five Des Moines area schools have hired a company called Green Flag Profit to collect delinquent lunch money, and they have had a 35% success rate while charging about $12 for each account.
Superintendent Steve McDermott told the school board Monday the administration will bring them a recommendation soon that could include the collection agency for the largest overdue accounts. “We’re not talking about somebody owing $25, and they’re going to pay it tomorrow, that’s not what we’re talking about,” McDermott says, “you get out past $300 though…and we gotta get serious, as much as we hate to during this tough time.”
The business manager says 38 families with 86 students owe over $300, while 134 families with 248 students owe between 40 and $300. McDermott says it can be frustrating in some cases because families are not taking advantage of the free and reduced price lunch programs.
He says there are times people qualify for the free and reduced lunches and run up a bill over a long period of time instead of applying for the help.
McDermott says they apply after they have a bill of $300 or $400, and they qualify. “Well there’s an application problem there, and we have worked on that to try and help people to understand that and to try and get their applications in sooner,” McDermott said. McDermott says the district is trying to do what it can to make sure parents are aware of the program and help them apply.
“We’ll sit down with them and help them fill out the application, so we fill like our buildings that our principals have worked on that. The free and reduced program is a good program, and it’s to help people, it is for a boost,” McDermott said, “There’s no shame in participating in that program.”
McDermott says the district is more than willing to work out a payment plan for parents who’re behind. Isaac says some districts give students who have delinquent accounts cheese sandwiches, while other don’t allow middle and high school students with delinquent accounts to eat school lunch. Superintendent McDermott says he would rather feed the students and not penalize them when their parents don’t pay the bill.
By Randy Van, KCOB, Newton