LYNNWOOD — Three months after the Edmonds School District changed the way it deals with hungry kids who come to school without lunch money, parents have paid back an estimated $25,000 to $27,000 in owed lunch money.
“It’s been quite successful,” school district spokeswoman Debbie Jakala said. “Obviously, the ideal would be to recoup all the funds. However, that was never an expectation.”
When school started last fall, parents owed $207,763. By December, $152,000 remained. Some of that was new debt parents took on this fall as their children charged meals.
Prior to the start of this school year, the district allowed students to charge an unlimited amount of food to a bill their parents were supposed to pay. Several families racked up hundreds of dollars in debt.
In an attempt to make parents pay, the district stopped allowing kids to charge food in September. If students owed money and went through the lunch line, cafeteria workers were instructed to throw away their food and give them a cold cheese sandwich instead.
The policy enraged some parents, and district officials apologized and put a new plan into place in October. Since then, students have been allowed to charge $15 worth of food to a tab their parents must pay. After that, if they want lunch but don’t bring money, elementary students receive an “emergency meal” consisting of a cold cheese sandwich, milk and fruit in a sack. Middle and high school students get just two free emergency meals. After that, they can purchase them for a dollar.
“I know that other schools are facing similar situations and maybe they’ve avoided the public tar and feathering that I think the Edmonds School District got — a little bit for right and wrong reasons in my book,” said parent Tim Crosby, a member of the district’s parent food advisory committee. “But I hope at least it brought about a change so it doesn’t happen again, and also an understanding as to why schools have to do what they do.”
The district has been sending automated voice mails to parents who owe money, and food service officials are considering making personal calls soon. Some parents have urged the district to use a collections agency to get the money back, but Jakala said that’s not an option. She urges parents who owe money to call their school and work out a payment plan.
Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.