Washington County Board of Education approves collection of outstanding school meal debt

WCPS debt_98537885

The Washington County Board of Education approved a controversial policy change Tuesday night, which will give it the option to collect outstanding student meal debt through a collection agency. 

Five in favor and two opposed is how the Washington County Board of Education voted.

“It’s truly our hope that we don’t have to utilize the last means of this policy,” Jeffrey Proulx, WCPS COO, said. “School system staff are going to do everything within our means to work with every family.”

These revisions also remove meal charging limitations and the embarrassment students may feel if they can’t afford a regular lunch. 

“Under the new policy that was approved, every student receives the regular meal everyday regardless of their family’s ability to pay for that meal,” Proulx said.

The opposition comes from board members Wayne Ridenour and Pieter Bickford, who said they do not want their names on anything that involves a collection agency.

“If you talk to anybody who’s been through the experience of a collection agency, it’s a dirty business,” Bickford said. “It just saddens me that the school system, in any way, would have to resort to that.”

But district officials said this will only be used as an absolute last resort and will ideally motivate eligible families to fill out the proper paperwork for their child to possibly receive a free or reduced meal. 

“If all other means fail, we have the ability to send a family to a collection service to see if we can recoup the money that’s owed to the school system,” Proulx said.

Board members said other alternatives were explored, but ultimately, many felt the risk of parents taking advantage of the unlimited charges would plummet them further into debt; a debt that’s currently $45,000. 

The proposal stems from the U.S. Department of Agriculture requiring all school systems to develop a policy for the collection of delinquent meal charges that are not able to be written off.

Officials said the removal of alternative lunches will be implemented sooner rather than later.

Proulx suggests the collection agency option will most likely be implemented in the fall of 2018, so parents can start with a clean slate.

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