advice from a fake consultant

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

On Data Collection, Or, Help Us Learn More About "Alternate Lunch"

Regular readers will know that this is the third in a series of stories that have addressed the practice of serving “alternate lunches” to students whose parents owe the school for lunch money.

For those who are seeing this series for the first time, a quick recap:

From On Teaching Debt Collection To Kids, Or, Here’s The Outrage Of The Week:

“...One form of “lost dollars” has historically been the money owed by parents for school lunches that are essentially provided “on credit”. Basically what happens is a kid might forget his lunch money that day...and the school covers the money until they can collect the debt...

...With that in mind, it’s no surprise that schools would look for ever-more-creative ways to collect debts; but even considering all that I found myself shocked by this LA Times article entitled: “On school menus: cheese sandwiches, parental debt”...

...If a parent owes the district more than $5 in meal money...the district will basically...repossess lunch...


...Picture two second-graders in the cafeteria line. As they get to the yummy pizza, the first little girl gets her slice of pepperoni. But not the second girl.

She gets a cheese sandwich.

That’s right-this school district, and numerous others nationwide, have special school lunch “options” for those students who have parents that owe money-and in Calloway County, Kentucky, it only takes $3.00


To make things worse, the story discusses the practice of finding nutritious, but unappetizing, foods that can be offered to the kids to shame them into getting the money from their parents.

Additionally, the story pointed to several independent sources that suggest using food as a tool for debt collection in the lunchroom is counteracting the lessons taught right down the hall in the classrooms by the USDA’s “Team Nutrition” program-a $500 million dollar annual investment in grants and other aid used by virtually all school districts to teach our kids healthier eating habits.

Of course, there’s a lot more than $500 million at stake-heart attack, stroke, and diabetes are all frequently traced to unhealthy diet, and the cost of those disorders runs into the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of billions of dollars annually.

Part two of the story (On Facts And Figures, Or, Over 187 Billion Served) is a dollars and cents, facts and figures kind of story-where the funding for school meals (more or less $37 billion) comes from, and where it goes, how many kids are served (about 9 million daily), and lots more detailed number crunching.

Did you know the School Lunch Program was not started out of an interest in serving America’s poor? Did you know it was originally conceived because of National Security concerns? That was also some of the ground we covered in part two; as well as the often unrecognized relationship between the Program and the Black Panthers.

We also talked about our desire to create a survey that you, the reader, might administer to your local school districts so that a national perspective might be obtained.

Finally, it was announced that the parents that are at the heart of all of this have contacted me, that they have created an email address (ForAllTheKids@gmail.com); and that they would enjoy your messages of support.

Having thus dealt with the old business; let us now move on to new business.

First, “informed sources” tell me that Fabian Nuñez, the Speaker of the California State Assembly, has become aware of this issue and may be investigating the problem in the near future. (To get an idea about where the Speaker stands on these sorts of issues, check out the video of the Speaker and Michael Moore discussing “Sicko” at its US premiere.)

To help get the ball rolling, I’d like to ask the community to take a second and encourage the Speaker with a quick email (use the “Contact the Speaker” link at the very bottom right corner or bottom center of the page) complimenting him on this interest and maybe even pointing out that he’s a generally nice guy-which, from a distance, he seems to be. (For purposes of disclosure, Nuñez is associated with the Hilary Clinton campaign.)

Next, we have a survey...in fact, we have two.
More about that in a minute.

But before we put up the surveys, I want to talk about the options for returning the results.

The survey will be on this page-so you can copy and paste the version you want to use; and then either print the questions or copy them to a digital device, like a phone, BlackBerry or PDA.

If you are text-savvy, the results won’t need to be typed-but for the rest of us, we have two ways to avoid the typing process after the survey is completed.

One is to fax the results to the parents at (206) 312-1612.

The other option is a little different, and I’ll take a second to walk through what you do.

There is a website in India called NowPos (NowPossible...) that allows you to create voice emails using a microphone attached to your computer; and this will allow you to “dictate” the results, and then send that email to the ForAllTheKids@gmail.com address. You’ll have to create an account to do this, but there is no charge for the service.

And finally, we discuss the surveys.

Basically what we are trying to do is get the “nuts and bolts” of how local districts treat the “alternate lunch” question and information about Federal meal reimbursement. There are also a series of questions that focus on whether Districts employ an outside contractor to manage their foodservice programs.

There are two versions of the survey, a 52 question version, and a 26 question version. It is estimated that the longer version will take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete, but the shorter version will provide the most basic information if a respondent is reluctant to offer that much time.

We encourage you to direct the survey to a School District’s food service director-alternatively, an assistant superintendent or other similar manager should be able to answer many of these questions. To quote from the survey itself:

“To begin, call your school district child nutrition service office or food service office and ask to speak with someone familiar with the process for handling past due payments on student meal accounts.”


The parents would also like to be informed if a District refuses to complete the survey. In that event, please send an email to the ForAllTheKids@gmail.com address with the details.

With all that said, here is the long version of the survey:

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ALTERNATE MEAL SURVEY (LONG VERSION)

We prefer this “Long” survey, as the extra questions and answers will help us to better understand what is happening in school districts around the country.

This is a series of questions designed to evaluate the nature of alternate meal service (meals served to students who have parents with negative meal payment accounts) in elementary school districts across the country. The survey should take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete. The questions will relate to the financial and operational aspects of your school’s food service operations, and we greatly appreciate your assistance in helping us gather the most complete information possible.

At the end of the survey we’ll ask for your name and contact information; but we won’t use your name without asking your permission first.

To begin, call your school district child nutrition service office or food service office and ask to speak with someone familiar with the process for handling past due payments on student meal accounts.

School District:_____________________________________________

City and State:_____________________________________________

1) Do you allow students to charge cafeteria meals to an account?

___Yes

___No – We do not allow meals to be charged to an account

2) Do you serve an alternate meal for

___Breakfast

___Lunch

___No alternate meal served






3) What do you charge for:

Alternate Meals Reduced Price meals Full Pay Meals

Breakfast $___________ $______________ $_____________

Lunch $___________ $______________ $______________

4) Please describe the alternate meals your school district serves.




5) Do you have more than one alternate meal?

___Yes ______ If yes, how many?

___No

___Don’t know

6) Do you use donated government commodities (food items) in your alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

7) Can any student purchase the alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

8) Is the alternate meal a regular menu item?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

9) Is the alternate meal policy different for younger students (Kindergarten, first grade) or Special Education students?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

10) Do alternate meal students make their own menu choices, or are the students served without choices?

___Students make their own choices

___Students do not choose

___Don’t know

11) Do non-alternate meal students make their own menu choices, or are those students served without choices?

___Students make their own choices

___Students do not choose

___Don’t know

12) How many choices are there for regular meal entrees?

_______Breakfast

_______Lunch

_______Don’t know

13) Please complete this sentence: “We start serving alternate meals after the student’s negative balance reaches

$__________.”

14) How many students are receiving the alternate meal?

________Breakfast ___Don’t know

________Lunch ___Don’t know

15) How much do you charge for the alternate meal?

$________Breakfast

$________Lunch

_________Don’t know

16) How do you identify the students who will receive the alternate meal? (Please check all that apply)

___Keypad entry

___Different lunch card for alternate meal students

___Check marks, stickers, or other alterations to lunch cards

___At the cash register or at the front of the line

___Don’t know

___Other (please describe below)



17) Does the regular meal, if served by mistake, get physically taken from the child if they should have been served the alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

18) If a regular meal is taken from a child, is it disposed of in the child’s presence?

___Yes

___No

___Meals are not taken from child

___Don’t know

19) What happens when a student, with a negative balance, who would normally get the alternate meal, brings cash to pay for one meal?

___The child can purchase a regular meal with a cash payment.

___The cash is applied to balance owed and the child is served an alternate meal at NO CHARGE.

___The cash is applied to balance owed and the child is served an alternate meal and charged for the alternate meal.

20) Do you charge Reduced Price students for their regular meals and/or alternate meals?
Regular Meals Alternate Meals

___Yes ___Yes

___No ___No

___Don’t know ___Don’t know

21) Are students with a negative balance given written notice before an alternate meal is served?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

22) If you give students written notice, how is that notice provided?(Please check all that apply)

___Email

___Letter (Standard mail, Certified mail, or Registered mail)

___Note sent home with child

___Don’t know

___Other (Please describe):






23) Sometimes Free meal students have a negative balance that was incurred before the Free meal application was approved. Do free meal students continue to get an alternate meal because of the old outstanding debt?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know


24) If a Free meal student is receiving the alternate meal, do they receive the meal until the negative balance is paid?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

25) Is there a time limit to how long a student can receive the alternate meal?

___Yes (If yes, what is the limit?____________________)

___No

___Don’t know

26) If there is a limit, what happens when the limit is reached?



27) Do you offer a payment plan to families with negative balances; and if yes, does the child get a regular meal once the family is on a payment plan?

___No payment plan offered

___Payment plan offered, child remains on alternate meal

___Payment plan offered, child returns to regular meal choices

___Don’t know

28) Is the alternate meal a reimbursable meal under the National School Lunch Program? If yes, how much money do you receive from your State and the Federal government for each reimbursable meal?
Federal reimbursement State reimbursement

Full Pay $______________ $______________

Reduced Pay $______________ $______________

Free Lunch $______________ $______________

___Alternate meal not reimbursable

29) Do you get reimbursed by your State and the Federal Government, if you DO NOT CHARGE the student’s account for the alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

30) If you serve an alternate meal, is the meal a nutritionally complete meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

31) When all students have received their lunch, are leftover hot food items or other non-spoiled food items thrown away?

___Yes

___Don’t know

___No
(If the answer is no, please describe how the food is re-used below)




32) At what dollar amount do you notify parents that their account balance is getting low?

$______________

___Parents not notified.

33) How do you notify parents of a negative balance?
(Please check all that apply)


___ Advance written notice

___Written notice after student reaches negative balance

___Letter (Standard mail, Certified mail, or Registered mail)

___ By telephone

___Don’t know

___Other (please describe):



34) Please describe how you reach out to families who are potentially eligible for Reduced Price or Free meals.





35) Please describe how you reach out and communicate with families who are NOT PAYING their cafeteria balances.





36) Which, if any, of these methods have you used to collect debt owed for meals? (Please check all that apply)

___ Demand Letters

___ Credit Bureau reporting

___ Collection Agencies

___ Small Claims Court

___ None of these methods

___ Don’t know

___ Other (please describe):




37) If you have an alternate meal, were any of these legal measures attempted to hold parents accountable before the alternate meal program began?

___Yes

___No

___No alternate meal program


38) What is the current total debt for meals owed in your school district?

$_____________________


39) What happens with the debt owed when the student transfers out of your school district (due to promotion/graduation or moving away)?






40) What was last year’s write off for debt by your school district for unpaid meals?

$______________________

41) Do you have a school board policy for collecting unpaid debt?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

42) Do you do any of the following to try and get parents to pay the past due balance? (Please check all that apply)

___ Withhold report cards

___Withhold transcripts

___Not allow children to participate in graduation ceremonies

___Not allow children to participate in 6th grade camp

___Don’t know

___Other (please describe below):




43) If parents pre-pay in advance for their child’s meals, do you give them a discount (Dollar amount Discount, Percentage Discount, Free Meals)?


Dollar amount Discount Percentage Discount Free Meals

Full Pay $______________ ______________ _________

Reduced Pay $______________ ______________ _________

___No Discount Given

44) At the end of the school year, some parents who pre-pay for meals have a positive balance. What happens to that money? What happens if their child is graduating or leaving the district and the money is not requested?






45) Does your District have a written alternate meal policy?

___Yes (If yes, is it a School Board policy? _____ Yes ______ No)

___No

___Don’t know

46) Does your District have written or verbal directives for staff on how and when to serve the alternate meal?

___Written Directives

___Verbal Directives

___No Directives

___Don’t know

47) Does your District employ a food services consulting or management company?

___Yes (If yes, what is the Company’s name/s_________________________)

___No

___Don’t know

48) If you employ a food services consulting or management company, how many consultants do you have and how much are they paid?

_______________ Number of consultants

$______________________ Total paid per year for all consultants

___None employed

49) If you employ a food services consulting or management company, do they receive additional fees/payment for each meal served?

___Yes (If yes-total cost per meal for all extra fees $_________)

___No

___Don’t know

50) Please describe these aspects of your school district:

Grade levels taught: _____________________

Number of schools: _____________________

Number of students: ________________________

Number of School Days per year ______________________

Number of meals served per day______________________


51) Who is the contact person for your district for any follow up questions?
(Please provide Name, Title, Email and Phone Number)










52) For the Person Giving The Survey - What Is your contact information?
(Please provide Name, Title, Email and Phone Number)









Thank you very much for your assistance in conducting this meal survey in your school district.

If you want to share the results of your survey, we would be very interested in receiving the information. You can email us the responses you received or scan and email the results of your survey to:

forallthekids@gmail.com

Fax the survey to us at (206) 312-1612

Please email us if a school district refused to answer the survey questions.

If you have further questions, please contact:

Alice, Bill or Cyndi at (206) 312-1612 (Voice Mail)

Sincerely,

Alice, Bill & Cyndi
CARES Parents – Chula Vista, California
Child Advocates Representing Equality for all Students


And now, the shorter version of the survey:

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ALTERNATE MEAL SURVEY (SHORT VERSION)

This is the “Short” version of the survey. If you want to take additional time (15 minutes) to get more detailed responses from your school district, please use the “Long Version” of our survey.

This is a series of questions designed to evaluate the nature of alternate meal service (meals served to students who have parents with negative meal payment accounts) in ELEMENTARY school districts across the country. The survey should take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

The questions will relate to the financial and operational aspects of your school’s food service operations, and we greatly appreciate your assistance in helping us gather the most complete information possible.

At the end of the survey we’ll ask for your name and contact information; but we won’t use your name without asking your permission first.

To begin, call your school district child nutrition service office or food service office and ask to speak with someone familiar with the process for handling past due payments on student meal accounts.


School District:_____________________________________________

City and State:_____________________________________________


1) Do you serve an alternate meal for

___Breakfast

___Lunch

___No alternate meal served

2) Please complete this sentence: “We start serving alternate meals after the student’s negative balance reaches

$__________.”




3) What do you charge for:

Alternate Meals Reduced Price Meals Full Pay Meals

Breakfast $___________ $______________ $______________

Lunch $___________ $______________ $______________

4) Please describe the alternate meals your school district serves.





6) Do you have more than one alternate meal?

___Yes ______ (If yes, how many?)

___No

___Don’t know

6) Can any student purchase the alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

7) Is the alternate meal a regular menu item?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

8) How many students are receiving the alternate meal?

________Breakfast ___Don’t know

________Lunch ___Don’t know



9) How do you identify the students who will receive the alternate meal?
(Please check all that apply)


___Keypad entry

___Different lunch card for alternate meal students

___Check marks, stickers, or other alterations to lunch cards

___At the cash register or at the front of the line

___Don’t know

___Other (please describe below)

10) Does the regular meal, if served by mistake, get physically taken from the child if they should have been served the alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

11) If a regular meal is taken from a child, is it disposed of in the child’s presence?

___Yes

___No

___Meals are not taken from child

___Don’t know

12) What happens when a student, with a negative balance, who would normally get the alternate meal, brings cash to pay for one meal?

___The child can purchase a regular meal with a cash payment.

___The cash is applied to balance owed and the child is served an alternate meal at NO CHARGE.
___The cash is applied to balance owed and the child is served an alternate meal and charged for the alternate meal.

13) Is the alternate meal a reimbursable meal under the National School Lunch Program? If yes, how much money do you receive from your State and the Federal government for each reimbursable meal?
Federal reimbursement State reimbursement

Full Pay $______________ $______________

Reduced Pay $______________ $______________

Free Lunch $______________ $______________

___Alternate meal not reimbursable

14) Do you get reimbursed by your State and the Federal Government, if you DO NOT CHARGE the student’s account for the alternate meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

15) If you serve an alternate meal, is the meal a nutritionally complete meal?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know

16) When all students have received their lunch, are leftover hot food items or other non-spoiled food items thrown away?

___Yes

___Don’t know

___No (If the answer is no, please describe how the food is re-used below)







17) Does your District employ a food services consulting or management company? If yes, who?

___Yes (If yes, what is the Company’s name_________________________)

___No

___Don’t know

18) If you employ a food services consulting or management company, how many consultants do you have and how much are they paid?

_______________ Number of consultants

$______________________ Total paid per year for all consultants

___None employed


19) What is the current total debt for meals owed in your school district?

$_____________________


20) What happens with the debt owed when the student transfers out of your school district (due to promotion/graduation or moving away)?





21) What was last year’s write off for debt by your school district for unpaid meals?

$______________________

22) Does your District have a written alternate meal policy?

___Yes (If yes, is it a School Board policy? _____ Yes ______ No)

___No

___Don’t know



23) Do you have a School Board policy for collecting unpaid debt?

___Yes

___No

___Don’t know


24) Please describe these aspects of your School District:

Grade levels taught: _____________________

Number of schools: _____________________

Number of students: ________________________

Number of School Days per year: ______________________

Number of meals served per day: ______________________

25) Who is the contact person for your district for any follow up questions?
(Please provide Name, Title, Email and Phone Number)




26) About the person answering the survey - what Is your contact information?
(Please provide Name, Title, Email and Phone Number)






Thank you very much for your assistance in conducting this meal survey in your school district.

If you want to share the results of your survey, we would be very interested in receiving the information. You can email us the responses you received or scan and email the results of your survey to:

forallthekids@gmail.com

Fax the survey to us at (206) 312-1612

Please email us if a school district refused to answer the survey questions.


If you have further questions, please contact:

Alice, Bill or Cyndi at (206) 312-1612 (Voice Mail)

Sincerely,

Alice, Bill & Cyndi
CARES Parents – Chula Vista, California
Child Advocates Representing Equality for all Students


So that's where we are for today-we have news about Speaker Nuñez' interest (and please do send him an encouraging email), we have several options for retuning the survey results, we know to whom we should direct the surveys, and of course, we have the surveys themselves.

So if you feel that punishing children with a "government cheese sandwich" because their parents owe money is a bad idea, and you’d like to help a group of parents who want to stop the practice nationwide; here’s an opportunity to get the ball rolling, and if you could help, they (and I) would be most appreciative.

4 comments:

Colin Campbell said...

Interesting. Here in Australia, our kids have to have their own lunch or buy one from the canteen. If there is no lunch, there is emergency lunch, peanut butter or Vegemite sandwiches and water. Just to sustain kids.

Growing up in the UK, I think that if you didn't pay, there was no lunch. In Primary School, we had an often inedible hot lunch every day. Parents had to pay up front at the beginning of the week.

fake consultant said...

until 1946 the us did not have a school lunch program either, and it amazes me that a desire to have better, stronger soldiers was at the heart of it all.

there seems to be evidence to suggest better learning and better nutrition are linked, and we have a huge problem with the costs of our bad eating habits-diabetes, heart attack and strokes will kill us in medicare costs (we do provide taxpayer-supported health care for those over 65) down the road, and this "punishmenht" program will make that problem worse for a whole new generation.

Lord Straf-Bilderberg said...

There is a whole lot here to comment on.

Firstly, in Britain, the hot lunch is included and in a private school, the fees at the start of term have covered it.

In America, they seem to charge separately and thus this situation arises.

The other side of the coin is that if it's a government initiative and the child is of a poor person, then surely a voucher system would be in operation to save the child this embarrassment?

I'm going to look at this in more detail.

fake consultant said...

surprisingly (or not, considering that life is a challenge for the middle class everywhere...), it's less of an issue for the most impoverished, and more an issue for those who are middle class, and paying full price for the school meals.

as we report in the first article, the parents are often surprised by the fact that there is a debt at all.

that said, there are kids who are caught in the trap of having parents who did not know they could apply for free meals, who accumulate a debt before the child is enrolled in the free meal program, and who cannot repay the debt.

anecdotal evidence suggests it is possible to remain in this staus (and thus eating "alternate lunch" everyday) for an entire school year.