KUSD battling against unpaid student lunches

KUSD Food Services Director Alex Mayo stands in the district’s central kitchen, which starting Wednesday, will be cranking out meals for thousands of students.

Photo by Aaron Ricca.

KUSD Food Services Director Alex Mayo stands in the district’s central kitchen, which starting Wednesday, will be cranking out meals for thousands of students.

KINGMAN – Kingman Unified School District had to bite the bullet on about $30,000 in unpaid student meals last year.

The debt was brought up at the KUSD Governing Board meeting July 11, and as the school year begins this week, Food Services Director Alex Mayo wants parents to sign up for the Free and Reduced Meal program whether they think they qualify or not. A new application must be submitted every year.

“Some people think they make too much money,” he said. “We want everyone to sign up.”

KUSD schools follow federal income guidelines to qualify. Children in households using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) are automatically eligible for free meals regardless of household income.

Applications and guidelines are available at each school, as well as the district office at 3033 MacDonald Ave. and at the central kitchen at 3174 Rutherford St.

“We have taken action and placed cafeteria employees in place to help families fill out the application, as well as sent out calls to all KUSD families reminding them of what information they will need to bring to fill out the application successfully,” Mayo said. 

Once a new application has been processed, the new status will take effect immediately. The applications from the 2016-17 school year will remain in effect for the first 30 operating days of this year. If a new application has not been received within that time frame, the student will be placed on a full pay status, and all charges incurred will be the responsibility of the parents. Parents will be notified by letter within the 10-day approval time frame when the new application is processed.

To avoid being singled out, students use their ID cards or an ID number, which is linked to a system tracking their meal purchases, to pay at the end of the chow line.

“Students aren’t identified as to which program they’re in,” Mayo said.

There are plenty of ways to pay for meals whether kids are on the Free and Reduced Meal program or not. The schools and central kitchen will accept cash or check.

“I recommend not giving the kids cash,” Mayo said. “They tend to lose it, and parents are more likely to be concerned about where their money is going.”

Parents can also go to the KUSD’s Nutrition Services link at www.kusd.org, set up an account with eFunds for Schools and pre-pay with a credit or debit card for periods up to 120 days. There’s also a tax credit option available for anyone – kids enrolled in the district or not. Individuals can contribute $200 and couples $400 and write it off when doing their taxes.

There isn’t much the district can do to recoup the debt. They follow federal and state guidelines that state kids cannot go without a meal.

“Our hands are tied with what the district is doing now,” Mayo said. “It’s not the kids’ fault. How do we hold the parents responsible? We will not deny any student a meal.”

Getting people to pay isn’t for the district’s lack of trying. They send out hundreds of letters and have an automated system that calls families twice a week if they owe money.

“Throughout the year, we make thousands of personal calls to families about their cafeteria debts and relay the options they have to pay them,” Mayo said. “We are doing everything we can to avoid accruing so much debt, but until there is a policy in place to hold the parents responsible, I’m afraid we will fall further into debt, even though we are doing everything we can to prevent this. We are here to help the families of Kingman. That’s what the Free and Reduced meal program is about.”

Mayo had one last bit of advice for filling Free and Reduced Meal applications:

“Sign it,” he said. “This happens so often. My administrative assistant has been calling and reminding people all day.”

If you have questions, call the main food service office at 928-753-6190 or go to www.kusd.org.