Freeport Area schools knock down delinquent lunch bills
An aggressive approach to bringing in money from delinquent cafeteria bills is paying off for the Freeport Area School District.
Freeport Area Business Manager Ryan Manzer said that the district was recently owed $30,000 in unpaid student lunch bills.
Manzer said that amount has been reduced to about $6,000.
That equates to 80 percent of the outstanding money being paid since June when the board hired Credittech Inc. to collect the delinquent lunch bills. That included bills owed from years prior to the 2017-18 school year.
Parents of students who had delinquent lunch bills were warned that if payment on those bills was not started before Aug. 15, Credittech would add 18 percent to them and take over the collection process.
Superintendent Ian Magness said as a result a lot of parents “stepped up” over the summer and either paid the bills or began paying them through payment plans arranged with the district.
“Anyone from previous years who had an outstanding balance of more than $25 is being sent to the collection agency,” Manzer said. “We had a lot of payments over the summer to avoid that process.”
Referring to the $6,000 still outstanding, he said, “Those are mainly people on payment plans.”
Manzer and Magness said that, by law, the district cannot deny students a lunch even if their lunch account is in arrears.
“Our main obligation is feeding the kids, and if that is the price, that is price,” Manzer said.
But they stressed that doesn’t prevent district officials from holding their parents accountable for what is owed.
“This is the most aggressive we’ve ever been, with the collection agency,” Manzer said.
Magness said through the year parents were sent numerous letters and continuous phone calls were made to students’ homes to advise the parents of the collection effort.
“There is no shortage of communication,” Magness said.
He said district officials are aware that circumstances for some families may make it difficult to pay the lunch bills.
“That’s our first step: getting them to apply for free and reduced lunches,” Magness said.
He said for those who don’t qualify, the district will work with the family in setting up a payment plan to keep the delinquencies from getting out of control.
Manzer and Magness said the district uses a website, www.schoolcafe.com through which parents can register and discreetly apply for free and reduced lunch status for their children, monitor their children’s cafeteria account and view school district menus.
They urged parents to register with the website and make use of it.
Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.