Lincoln Schools take parents to court

October 01, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Lincoln County's school Food Service Program was losing money last school year with each scoop of mashed potatoes. When students' lunch and breakfast debts totaled that of a cook's salary, Food Service Director Janet Jacobs had to take definitive measures to stem the abuse of cafeteria credit and recoup the board's losses.

Last school year, Jacobs filed small claims suits in district court against 24 families with cafeteria fees of more than $100, a total of more than $15,000. It was a wake-up call Jacobs said she had to make after months of unanswered letters and exhausted options.

"Starting usually no later than the first of September, we start sending out charge notices to everybody every two weeks, when their charge amount is over $10," said Jacobs. When the amount is over $100, she sends a certified letter giving parents the option of signing up for the free and reduced lunch program, setting up a payment plan with the school, or paying the charges.


Parent's reasons for non-payment have become as creative as "my dog ate my homework."

"I've heard every excuse in the book," Jacobs said.

There was only so long benefit-of-the-doubt would let them skate, said Jacobs, who believes the situation has become "a really big problem statewide."

"I've exhausted every option I have, before I take someone to court," Jacobs said. It had come down to two options, small claims court or social services with charges of neglect.

It is standing policy of the district to file suit for back fees over $100, said Superintendent Teresa Wallace. The practice was enforced consistently as of last year, Jacobs said.

Four small claims suits brought for non-payment of lunch and breakfast costs from last school year were dropped Thursday in district court after the amounts were paid off. The school board collected about $750 in fees in the suits, which cost each defendant an additional $75 in court costs.

"Of the 24, probably about six had more than one child that owed over $100," Jacobs said. Three of the claims from last school year still remain, in addition to several new cases emerging this school year.

"I haven't even started on this year, and I already have some over $100," Jacobs said.

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