VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) – Local school districts are struggling to keep up with growing mountains of debt from unpaid school lunches.
Going into this school year, the Evergreen Public Schools district had accrued a debt load of $76,000.
Jennifer Misfeldt, the district’s Director of Nutrition Services, said staff has been working to communicate with parents through phone calls and emails, but haven’t had much luck getting responses.
The debt is a tricky issue for the district, because it has actively been trying to shield students from being shamed when asking for a meal.
“We elected to change our meal charge policy so that each kid got a meal, received a meal regardless of what the funds were in their account,” said Misfeldt.
The district made that policy change a couple years ago. Then last year, the Washington legislature passed a law barring districts from communicating outstanding debt with students.
Misfeldt said the problem isn’t with students.
“To be candid, we’re just having a hard time getting parents to be responsive and get communication from them as far as what their situation is,” she said.
The problem isn’t isolated to just Evergreen.
Here is the outstanding lunch debt breakdown for some of the area’s biggest districts:
- Hillsboro School District: $85,000
- Beaverton School District: $130,000
- Portland Public Schools: $300,000
- Salem-Keizer Public Schools: $386,000
As for Evergreen, more than $60,000 of the $76,000 debt is from students that don’t qualify for free and reduced school lunches.
“We have parents tell us, ‘Well, I don’t want to pay that because I told Johnny he can make a sandwich at home and take a sandwich from home,’” said Misfeldt.
The district has had offers from the community to help.
Norman Newkirk and his wife, who own Island Family Dental, have donated $10,000 each of the past two years to help Evergreen pay down some of the debt.
“We believe that you have to give back to the community,” said Newkirk. “We live in this community. We work in this community. And we’re a part of this community.”
But even with donations like theirs, the district’s debt continues to grow.
According to the district, parents who owe less than $10 account for 70 percent of the outstanding lunch debt.
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