VIRGINIA BEACH — According to officials at the city’s public school district, some kids will start the new school year with unpaid lunch debt totaling close to a fluctuating $138,000.
Sondra Woodward, a spokeswoman for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, said that number is significantly less, about $100,000 or so than it has been within the past four years and is steadily declining.
“The school district has a better system to communicate with parents about the debt and they’re more aware,” she said.
When public school students accrue a debt of more than $20.75 — the total cost of breakfast and lunch for five days — they’re given “alternative meals” at lunchtime, or a bag with a turkey or ham sandwich with cheese, fruit, vegetables, and milk, Woodward said.
The child’s parent or guardian is responsible for paying the lunch debt, and if the debt goes over $100 are encouraged to call the Office of Food Services to work out a payment plan.
But, once the school year ends — and if the debt exceeds the $20.75 cap — it gets sent to the city’s Treasurer’s Office who acts as a “collection service for the school district,” Leigh Henderson, the city’s treasurer, said.
“The first notice is a letter notifying them to pay the school but if it goes delinquent a collection fee is added,” Henderson said.
Student enrollment in the city’s 86 public schools totaled 66,820 during the 2018-2019 school year, according to the website.
All 3,038 kids who attend Diamond, Holland, Newtown, Seatack, and Williams schools receive free breakfast and lunch through the Community Eligibility Provision as implemented under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — the other 81 schools don’t qualify for the program.
Parents who apply can also qualify for their child to receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch — 70 cents for both meals a day rather than the full $4.25.
Woodward said school principals monitor lunch accounts and sees which students are repeatedly charging, but that debt doesn’t affect a child’s schooling, “records, nor graduation.”