Unpaid lunches not a problem at KUSD

Miner Photo/TERRY ORGAN

Bob and Mariana Needham look over photos he took while working in the mining and geology fields for 27 years.

Mariana was born in Brazil, and the photos were taken in the jungles of Brazil, the country in which Needham spent 75 percent of his time.

He estimates he spent 75 percent of that time in Brazil.

But it was not hostile natives or the dreaded piranha found in some rivers that are most etched in his mind as far as hair-raising experiences.

"I was in a helicopter crash in the jungle one time when we lost a tail rotor while flying over a lake," he said.

"The pilot and I swam ashore, and after two days walking to the closest river, we were able to flag down a boat for help.

"Another time I was run over by my own motor boat.

I was in a river with rapids when the boat hit a large whirlpool and I was thrown into the water."

"They say you see your life flashing by in an instant before death, and that's what happened.

I saw the motor's prop coming at my face, turned away and got hit in the back.

It tore me up but I survived."

Needham worked for Nord resources, a U.S.-based corporation, in remote Brazilian locations during 1975-80 when he had those two frightening experiences.

But they did not sour him on the career he had chosen.

He would do a lot of tropical geology in the jungles of Brazil during a career from which he retired in 2002.

Needham, who was born in Pittsburgh, also worked in the United States, Panama, Belgium, Japan, England, France, Germany, Australia, Guinea, Uruguay, Canada and Italy.

His work in Europe mainly involved marketing of minerals.

Needham often worked 50-75 miles deep in the Brazilian jungle, a long way from any grocery store.

That made it necessary to engage natives as hunters, who would bring meat into the camps on a regular basis.

The menu included monkeys, tortoises and capybaras, large web-footed rodents that often reach 48 inches in length and 24 inches in height and which are prized by natives for their meat.

British Petroleum and Rio Tinto Zinc were other major mining interests for which he worked, Needham said.

He also was a consultant for Western Mining of Australia.

One of his biggest engineering projects was as the project manager for British Petroleum at the Caba Cao Mine in western Brazil.

He spent about two years building a $40 million processing plant for refining of ore from an underground mine close to the border of Bolivia, Needham said.

"I loved every one of the countries in which I worked," he said.

"If I learned anything it's how nice people are."

Needham admitted Brazil is his favorite foreign country.

He met his wife Mariana there and they have been married 27 years.

A 2-year stint in the Peace Corps beginning in 1965 afforded Needham his first exposure to Brazil.

Most job opportunities in his area of expertise today are in Africa.

That continent contains places too dangerous for Americans to work, Needham said.

Needham has long been an amateur photographer.

He said he makes prints now for the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

He also does some volunteer work for the Bureau of Land Management as a site steward.

He visits two historic areas four times a year to ensure they have not been vandalized or had artifacts stolen.

Needham moved to Kingman two years ago from Hollywood, Fla.

He said he was still working as a geologist in the Black Mountains before the move and came to love the area and its climate.

He also enjoys mountain biking and travel with his wife.

Neighbors is a feature that appears Monday in the Kingman Daily Miner.

If you have an interesting story you'd like to share, contact Terry Organ at 753-6397 ext.

225.

KINGMAN – While the Kingman Unified School District receives federal subsidies for participating in free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs, the district has fewer problems with uncollected fees for meals than larger districts in the Phoenix area.

Karma Jones, director of food services for the KUSD, said her department is on a self-sufficient program and does not get maintenance and operations money from the district budget.

The food service budget for fiscal year 2003-2004 was roughly $1.4 million.

"We served 532,392 lunches last year, of which 321,985 were free," Jones said.

"We also served 149,367 breakfasts, of which 125,278 were free.

"We probably had one percent or 500 non-collected payments out of a half-million lunches.

At $1.25 per lunch at the elementary level, it came to about $625, so the impact on our budget was minimal."

A story appearing Thursday in the Arizona Republic reported unpaid lunches last year amounted to $210,000 in Tempe Elementary, $170,000 in Paradise Valley Unified and $32,000 in Washington Elementary school districts.

Eight other districts had unpaid lunch tabs ranging from $4,700 down to $73.

As of May 31, 2004, 43 percent of KUSD pupils qualified for free meals and another 10 percent for reduced price meals, based on family income.

Kingman High North is the lone district school not offering breakfast or lunch.

The programs are operated at Kingman High South, Kingman Junior High, Manzanita Elementary, Hualapai Elementary, Black Mountain, Palo Christi, La Senita Elementary, Cerbat Elementary and Mt.

Tipton in Dolan Springs.

Jones said KUSD children at the elementary levels are permitted three meal charges at the start of a year as the family tries to qualify for the free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs.

Federal law allows the district 10 days to determine an applicant's eligibility, although most applications are completed in five working days or less.

Janet Mayberry, free and reduced determining official with KUSD, may have up to 2,000 applications on any given day, Jones said.

Cerbat and Palo Christi are 45-15 schools that opened Thursday, helping alleviate the large stack of applications still to be processed before other district schools open Aug.

23.

"After those three charged meals we play the devil's advocate at collecting for them," Jones said.

"Some parents feel that once their child qualifies, they don't owe us for meals charged prior to qualification, but they do."

Letters are sent out over the summer telling parents about the district's meal pricing, charging, check and collection policies, Jones said.

"We never turn unpaid lunch charges over to a collection agency, but we do turn over bad checks for collection," she said.

"We get between 30 and 50 bad checks per year ranging from $2.50 up to $50 each."

The district's federal reimbursement ranges from 14 cents on full-pay meals up to $2.21 for free meals, she said.

"It makes budgeting a real challenge," Jones said.

"But we remain a self-sufficient operation.

"There have been only two lunch (price) raises in the last 20 years, one of which is this year."

Lunch prices will go up 25 cents across the board, and the cost for a container of milk will rise 10 cents to 35 cents this year.

The new lunch prices will be $2 at KHS South, $1.75 at KJHS and $1.50 for elementary schools.

"We try to keep tight control on uncollected meal money," Jones said.

"We do get some angry parents when we pursue it, but we must or it would impact out budget greatly."