School District Now Sending Kids' Unpaid Lunch Bills to Collections

One Rhode Island school district is playing hardball to recoup more than $45,000 of unpaid lunch balances.

Dec 10 2018, 11:18pm

Photo: Getty Images/Steve Debenport

According to Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, the animated series’ setting of Quahog, Rhode Island is loosely based on Cranston, a city of 80,000 in the northern part of the state. If you’ve ever had to hate-watch an episode while waiting for your roommate to pick all of the seeds and stems out of the baggie, you may know that Meg and Chris Griffin both attend James Woods Regional High School, which is part of the Quahog School District.

On the show, those fictional school administrators have suggested expelling the dumbest student (which happens to be Chris) to raise test scores, allowed Peter Griffin to run for school board, and then, like 48 seasons later, let him serve as the temporary principal at James Woods High. But at least no one on the Quahog School Board ever considered what its supposed real-life counterpart is doing.

The Cranston School District recently informed parents that if they haven’t paid their kids’ lunch bills, they’re about to be turned over to a collection agency. Raymond Votto, the Chief Operating Officer for the district, sent a letter to every students’ parents, regardless of whether they currently have an outstanding balance in the school cafeteria.

“In the past, the school district has attempted to collect unpaid lunch balances without much success. Starting in September 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018, the school district has written off $95,508,” the letter read. “This current year (2018-2019) the unpaid balance is $45,859.The District lunch program cannot continue to lose revenue.” As a result, Transworld Systems, will begin collection efforts on January 2, 2019—so enjoy your holidays, everyone!

“The accounts over 60 days past due with a minimum balance of $20.00 will receive the letters,” Votto told MUNCHIES. (But the district told NBC 10 that the collection agency will take a “soft approach,” and will send letters to parents, instead of calling them.)

He did confirm that all students will continue to receive lunches, regardless of whether Transworld Systems is sending strongly worded letters to their folks or not. Lunch for an elementary schooler costs $2.50 every day, while it’s $3.25 to feed lunch to students at Cranston’s middle schools and high schools.

Votto also said that kids whose parents are facing collection will receive the same food as everyone else. (This isn’t always been the case: Some states or districts have allowed schools to throw students’ food away, to offer them a cold lunch substitute, or even to mark their arms with an “I Need Lunch Money” stamp.)

Just over 10 percent of Cranston’s residents live below the poverty line, which is lower than the national average of 14 percent. But being slightly better than the national average doesn’t make things easier for those 8,000—or for those who are able to scrimp and pinch and stay slightly above the official designation of poverty. It just seems like there have to be… other ways to address a budget deficit than calling a collection agency. (In New Mexico, for example, recently passed legislation requires each school to certify the family for free or reduced-price meals if they owe for more than five meals, assuming that the family qualifies).

For right now, Cranston seems pretty set on bringing Transworld Systems in. “We have received correspondence from people who support our action as well as those that are critical,” Votto said. “We have also received emails from folks asking if they can help pay the unpaid balance.”

When MUNCHIES asked Votto whether a collection agency was the best way to handle this situation, he said it was too early to comment on that. “The process has not begun,” he said.

Then maybe there’s still time to float a few other ideas.