What's for Lunch?
friend who lives in the Southeast told me this story. I thought it was a sign
of the times, and invited her to share it here in a Strange Land. She ended up
deciding that she needed to be anonymous. Although she's been teaching in this
school district for a couple of decades, she was nervous about identifying
herself while displaying what seems to be in-district dirty laundry.
Tablecloths, perhaps. Here's her tale:
A few years ago, our school board
decided cut costs by contracting out food service operations to a for-profit
organization. That worked okay for a while, but this year, the economy went bad
and it seems that more than a few parents left the school holding an empty
lunch bag. Last year the school board also approved a policy to provide a meal
to any child who did not have cash, credit on their lunch account, or qualified
for free and reduced lunch. Parents were supposed to be contacted and asked to
cover outstanding balances.
At the end of the year, the food
service program was in the red to the tune $28,000, even after notifying
parents and vigorously collecting debts. The service contract allows the vendor
to recoup any losses and the company wanted its money. Now. In addition to
supplying standard lunch for $2.15, they offer al la carte selections including
fries for $1.35, ice cream for $1.10, and bottled water to wash it all down for
another $1.35. Did parents not communicate purchasing limits to their children?
Did everyone just assume someone would take care of this and let kids go on
merrily stuffing themselves?
I am sure that there are some sad
cases and mitigating circumstances, and to be fair, they did serve over three million lunches this
year, but that is still a large unpaid bill. In case you haven’t heard, times
are hard and the school system is strapped for money—so strapped that teachers salaries
have been frozen for the past two years.
So, what to do? The superintendent
sent an all-staff email asking school employees if they would please make
donations to cover the cost of those unpaid lunches and get food service out of
the red. Basically, teachers just said no. Several teachers noted that they had
already “loaned” lunch money more than once, covered the cost of a field trip,
or provided school supplies out of their own pocket.
service wouldn't settle, so the superintendent did what most people in
education do: he turned to teachers fix the problem. He’s not bad guy, but parents, the vendor, and the
school board should be accountable for the debt. Not the teachers. Teachers
shouldn’t be left holding the bag.
story, eh? One of a million stories, all asking the same essential question:
what do we really care about in America? What's our priority investment? I've
been thinking about this story as the battle rages on over health care--me and
my choices vs. providing health care equitably to everyone (a problem other first-world nations have solved). I thought about unpaid lunch
money this morning, listening to a news story on how well Goldman Sachs has rebounded. As I
passed the empty, foreclosed houses in my neighborhood on my evening walk--knowing
that some of my neighbors abandoned their upside-down mortgages--I wondered how
many of them left lunch debts behind, too.
friend is right--did we just assume someone would take care of this?
Image: vshorty/Flickr Creative Commons