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1/10/2013 6:00:00 AM
No free lunch: Debts, bad policy eat at Kingman school program
AHRON SHERMAN/MinerLunch is served at Kingman Middle School Wednesday.

Lunch is served at Kingman Middle School Wednesday.
Charles Lucero
Charles Lucero

Ahron Sherman
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - The Kingman Unified School District is in a bit of a quandary when it comes to collecting money for food already served.

When students not signed up for free or reduced lunch - despite possibly qualifying - come to school without money to pay for a meal, the district allows them to charge the lunch. The district then attempts to collect the money owed from the students' parents, but it doesn't always go as planned.

"We have some families who owe more than $100 for over two years," said Paula Loomis, KUSD food services director.

And to make matters more complicated, the school board passed a package of policy changes without taking an extensive look at each one in October, and one of the policies on collecting food charges is not supported by the board.

The cumulative debt continues to grow and has spiked in the last couple of years. In 2008, the total owed to the district for food charges was $663. That number dropped to $621 in 2009, jumped up to $844 in 2010 and increased to $1,463 in 2011. Currently, that total exceeds $3,100.

At this rate, it wouldn't be a stretch to see that number reach close to $10,000 in 2013.

A significant percentage of the families with large outstanding debts qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, Loomis said.

There are 7,191 students enrolled in KUSD schools. Of those, 4,399 are signed up for free lunch and 477 are signed up for reduced lunch.

Families must apply for their children to receive free or reduced lunch every year their children are enrolled at a district school, Loomis explained.

During the first 30 days of a school year, students retain the meal status they had the previous year. Once those 30 days are up, students who were part of the program during the previous year must start paying for their lunches if their application hasn't been turned in.

Often, the students must charge their meal to eat.

Policy needs changing

The policy change passed in October says that once a student reaches three charges in a year, his or her parents are notified and the student begins receiving alternate meals on days he or she doesn't have money to pay.

The alternate meal consists of a cheese sandwich, milk and either a fruit or vegetable. Exempt from this policy are pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and disabled students.

Board members Charles Lucero and Jeri Brock made it clear that they do not want to enforce that policy and want to work to change it.

Serving students alternate meals singles them out for ridicule, the two argued.

"There's got to be a better way," Lucero said.

Brock plans to rewrite the policy to better suit the board's wishes and present it at next month's meeting.

Food and finances

The number of students signed up for the free and reduced lunch program has a direct effect on the federal funding the district receives.

Take what is known as the E-Rate, for instance. It's a federal program that uses money collected through the Universal Service Fund to help schools pay for technology. This does not include hardware, KUSD Finance Director Wanda Hubbard said.

The E-Rate funding reimburses school districts for a percentage of technology costs, such as those incurred for telephone lines and Internet connections. The percentage paid is directly connected to the amount of students receiving free or reduced lunch, Hubbard said.

KUSD receives between $300,000 and $500,000 every year through E-Rate funding.

"I want to be closer to the 500 than the 300," Hubbard said. The only way to be sure to get the maximum reimbursement is to have those who qualify signed up for the free or reduced lunch program.

Technology costs that are not reimbursed must be covered with the district's Maintenance and Operations Fund, she said.

The district also receives about $2 million for Title I, the federal program designed to help at-risk students. This amount is based on the Kingman area's poverty rate relative to the rest of the country, but the amount allocated to each school for intervention programs, such as tutoring, is based on how many students are signed up for free or reduced lunch at a school, Hubbard said.

Most KUSD schools qualify for Title I, KUSD Superintendent Roger Jacks said.

To qualify for the program, a family of two must gross $2,333 or less a month. That amount goes up with family size, capping out at $5,996 a month for a family of eight.

The district is set to hire a part-time employee to collect outstanding debts and assist families that need it to fill out free and reduced lunch applications, Hubbard said.

Whether the problem is parents not paying or parents not filling out important paperwork remains to be seen.

"But we need to make sure we have anyone who qualifies understanding how important it is," Hubbard said. "The grownups need to be dealing with the problem - not the kids."

Note: If you need a free or reduced lunch application or help filling out the one you already have, call the KUSD food services department at 753-6190.

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Related Stories:
• KUSD board to hear about money owed for school lunches
• Lunch bill due at KUSD, but some aren't paying their bill
• Kids eat for free at summer food program

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013
Article comment by: What is the Answer

It, of course, is not the kids' fault and they should not go hungry, but the amount of money that the article informs that someone can make and still qualify for free lunch (not free but also paid by the tax payers) blows my mind. More than one-half of the students receive or qualify for free lunch, what? I would suggest that since the schools cannot seem to provide a decent, nutritious lunch anyway, save the schools and taxpayers some money, save the kids from these lunches and do away with school cafeterias altogether. Sack lunches for all. Put the responsibility of providing and nutrition back on the parents. If the parents qualify for the kids to have free lunches they probably get food stamps too, so there you go.

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013
Article comment by: Pinto Beans

Folks, it's 10 meals a week. Breakfast is also served and it's free for the same reasons that lunch is free. Well, except that part when I the taxpayer gets sent the bill for the free part.

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2013
Article comment by: Kingman Mom

The school lunch program really needs to be looked at. Not only for lunch debt but also for what is served. My daughters would come home hungry because they just couldn't eat the food at their school. We've been lunch boxing it ever since. Everyone here makes valid points and I think we can all agree that the ones who suffer are the children. Is it really necessary to give them a cheese sandwich and a fruit cup because the parents can't/won't pay. It's not the child's fault so why do they have to be singled out? I understand that the food costs money, but you would think that if the board can "pass a package policy without looking extensively at each one" they can work on the students being fed equally and with decent food.

Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Article comment by: origional kingman resident

Parents are responsible for their children's health and well being. If a parent doesn't want to pay for school lunches, they need to either prepare a bag lunch at home or teach their child how to do it. A first grader is capable of making a sandwich and tossing a piece of fruit and a cookie into a paper sack.
If the parent can't afford to buy food for making bag lunches then that parent needs to take it upon his or her self to fill out the application form for free or reduced school lunches.

Not only is it neglect for a parent to send their child to school with out a bag lunch or money to purchase a school lunch. When that same parent refuses to pay their outstanding debt, they force the school district to cover the cost. Yes, it is currently "only" $3000, but that is $3000 that is not going toward educational materials that are meant to benefit a lot of other children.

Children need nourishment in order to be able to learn. The schools need to provide some sort of food for children who's parents are so neglectful that they don't see to it themselves. The school has every right to expect payment from those parents. It is the parent's fault that they didn't fill out the assistance forms. If the parent was ignorant of the program, (which I highly doubt, as the program is widely publicized), a responsible parent would research what sorts of programs are available rather than let their child go hungry.
A dead beat expects the school district to pick up the tab for their child's meals.

Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Article comment by: This is Neglect

First off, the students shouldn't be singled out, it's not their faults and school is rough enough with out getting your lunch on a plate rather then a tray, and getting something different they everyone else.
What needs to happen is the law needs to be involved. Haul the parents into the school for a meeting with a school rep (to help fill out the paperwork) and the shcools Resources Officer and let them know that they will be facing NEGLECT CHARGES or possible CPS involvement if they either fill out the application for assistance, pay for lunch or send lunch for their child.
If the childs family is on Nutrition Assistance (food stamps) also a federal program, and have a school aged child, then that information should be made available to the school districts and based off the their application for that.

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: KUSD Mom

Have you seen what is served at the schools? I know the middle and high school menus are a joke. No wonder nobody wants to pay for the old fried foods the kids get..this week alone chicken everyday and the menu stays the same. My child has brought home (three times last semester) her moldy sandwich to show me what she had to eat. The high schooler tells me by the time she gets in line the "good" food is gone (all LWHS students take lunch at the same time) and the only non-meat main item is salad (ie lettuce). Take a look at the menu and see what is wrong with this picture. Maybe better food, no charging abilities and incentive to fill out the forms will get the money that KUSD needs. If not let's encourage the private sector to set up mobile food trucks and get some money pumped into the community that way. Think of how many kids would be willing to dump $3 into a slice of GOOD pizza and a juice for a local mom&pop shop or even a bit more for some good chinese food, burgers or tacos?

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: s b

Just pay your bill....simple as that! If your child don't want to eat lunch at school, get off your lazy behinds and make them lunch! If you want them to eat at your bill!

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: Mitch Johns

I work with nearly 500 districts nationwide and know for certain that a lunch deficit of less than 50 cents per student tells me the administration and food service department of Kingman are doing an outstanding job of managing this situation. Most schools nationally run from $2 to $5 on average. In business it is called 'bad debt'. Every business has it and yes indeed school lunch is a business. Virtual every dollar a district receives (state & federal) is based on the poverty rate and poverty rate is the number of students approved for free and reduced lunch. Well researched article Ahron.

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: Hardworking Parent

[Comment deleted for excessive length]

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: cindy phillips

Ya never see the prisons going short on food. The prisoners have it all, three hots and a cot, college education, etc. We need to invest in people while they are young then maybe we wouldn't need so many prisons.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: Marie Antwaanet

Does anyone know if food stamp allocations take into account that all the minors in a household are eating 5 meals each week for free via another public program?

Also, let's not vilify the occasional free eater when the article points out that most kids aren't paying a cent.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: SNC CNS

I don't live in Kingman any longer, but where I live now (in AZ) our students are not allowed to "charge" lunches, but they aren't turned away with nothing. They don't get what is being served that day (spaghetti, hamburgers, etc.) they are offered a cheese or peanut butter sandwich. My child isn't on reduced lunch, but I am only human and a couple of times per year my child forgets to tell me she is out of money and I send her off to school. Once she eats the "free" lunch offered she doesn't forget to tell me and she has money the next day! So I don't think they should allow to charge lunches, they should get something in their belly until they parents sign up or the student gets money in their accounts.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: D M

If can't afford to have kids then don't, simple as that.
This is what happens when the government gets involved in handing out to people most will take advantage of the rest of the tax payers, why do you think obama got reelected again, for more free stuff. More people moving here from blue states doesn't help.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: Cooper D

Bravo, Mary Fran Romeo! Thank you for a very logical/common sense response. Find a way to feed the children without sinking the school district ship.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: Double Dippers

Maybe the Board members should take the money they make and pay the charges off, instead of double-dipping the system. Surely they make enough money to fund this that way all the kids could eat.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: no name

Dr. Lucero should lead by example and use proper english. He is more interested in promoting himself than genuinely caring for others.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: KUSD The Enabler

Let's not embarrass those who don't pay for their food. Let's teach them that they don't have to pay their bills and they will get treated the same as those who do. And Hubbard wants more and more on the dole so her office can get more from the Federal dole for her to spend. It's the Democrat way. (not democratic)

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: love the locals

And if the schools didn't allow kids to eat and pay it back later the school district would be vilified for not doing it.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: KUSD Parent

Those who are quick to attack the "deadbeat" parents should take the time to consider that those children who receive cash from their parent(s) for lunch don't necessarily use it for lunch. Not all children are honest - there are those that are more than willing to loan it to a friend or keep it for themselves. Afterall, mom &/or dad aren't smart enough to figure that one out, or are they? That is one of the reasons I like having the ability to go online and see that my child has purchased lunch & occasionally the extra items offered. I know mine is eating so I don't have any concern with another leaving us with his/her lunch bill.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: me me

My chidlren was on reduced last year... You can make up something like 45,000 a year and still qualify. so , now you can see why 70% of Kingman kids are on this porgram....

This year, my chidlren no longer get reduced lunch. Half the time my children tell me that the by the time that they get to the lunch room , the only thing that is left is a salad.( i pay full price why is my kids get the dang scraps!! ) Also I know that the other kids are using my kids number because everyweek, the say the need more lunch money by Wednesday . I have been at the cafetria eatting lunch with my kids,( the servings are very slim. not nutritious and not very appetizing at all. If i am paying 50 a month, I want them tohave something the will actually eat!!

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: Doing What's Right

Does anyone believe in doing what's right anymore? Please feed these children as many of them DO NOT have parents that care if they eat or not.... This lunch may be all they get to eat the entire day. For the parents out there with the ability to pay please do so and be responsible for your child. I ask those who can to please donate money for two or three lunches regularly even if they only have one child to do what's right for our local community. Also, if there is any businesses out there that can pay this debt, or anyone, please help. Let's keep our children healthly and learning and lets ALL be responsible for the cost and management of school lunches.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: have you seen whats for lunch

UMMMMMM I wouldnt pay for what KUSD serves anyway!!! my kid had an apple pie and a cheese stick for breakfast!!! I hear cedar hills has the best food for the kids, the healthiest food for the kids and they are allowed to have seconds so nobody goes nephew goes to school up there and he loves it!!!!! they always have a main food group, a veggie, and a fruit....come on kusd get with the program

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: no name

They do call. They do mail. They do email. They hand the forms to the kids. They hand the forms to the parents at registration. They send out one calls. How much more can we do short of what they are suggesting? If there is someone who wants to stand up and donate the 3 grand to cover what is already on the books please do. Thats the problem. If it is not covered it comes out of the money they need to educate the kids.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: Town Crier

This is nothing more than another attempt to deter our attention from the real budget issues, so that we remain uninformed to what might really make a difference. Really people? Lunches? You are going to act as if this is hurting the budget that much? Why don't some of you actually go to the schools for a few weeks and a few board meetings, and then tell me this is still deserving of this much attention over other issues. Get a clue, Kingman.

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013
Article comment by: Questions about the system

I do see a small flaw in how lunchs are charged. Children need only to put in their id number but how do you know thats really the child?? I pack a lunch for both my children but my oldest child in junior high continuesly owes 8-10 dollars a month. She isn't using her number because last school year she didn't like eating the cafeteria food because the salads or sandwiches were always frozen. This year she has been brown bagging it. Also I do qualify for reduced lunch but on the days my youngest wants to eat in the cafeteria so I send her with money some days its at the right amount for reduced lunch but then other days its at full price. When I call I'm told no you're qualified for reduced lunch but no one can explain why it changes.

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