Manteca Unified — under a federal mandate — started allowing students last school year to charge lunches if they didn’t have the money to pay for a meal.
Until August of 2016, if a student didn’t qualify for reduced or free meals and lacked the means to pay for lunch they received peanut butter and crackers along with a trip to the garden bar. Most other districts across the country served either a cheese or peanut butter sandwich. That all changed when the federal government said all students had to be served the same meal to avoid “shaming.” The bottom line: Districts like Manteca Unified had no choice but to accept charges
By the time last school year ended, students had charged $370,000 worth of meals. There was $212,000 still owed when summer vacation started. As of Tuesday, only $8,000 of that $212,000 had been collected.
Students who owe the money may find out the hard way that not settling their debt could cost them. The district plans to exercise legal options such as barring participation in activities that are deemed optional under state law such as after school sports. Ultimately, if the debt isn’t paid by the end of their senior year the district may bar them from participating in graduation ceremonies.
Manteca Unified Nutritional Education Services Director Patty Page said parents may not have been aware of what was going on with their child charging meals last school year.
Page said students often would game the system by saying they had no money, get the peanut butter and crackers as well as garden bar, and then pocket the money.
“A lot of students said they preferred the peanut butter and crackers,” Page said.
On Tuesday, the Manteca Unified board approved a policy change that will make it easier for parents to make sure the school gets the money for their children’s meals. At the same time Nutritional Services launched efforts to make parents aware that based on household income and the number of family members they may qualify for free and reduced lunches. The deadline for completing those applications is Sept. 18.
Under the new policy addressing student lunch charges:
uCharges are not allowed at the high school.
uParents/guardians have the ability to opt out making their child ineligible for charging meals.
uPayments will be accepted through cash in line; payment on student accounts through cash, checks or online (PayPams); or credit card.
uPayment arrangements may be made through Nutritional Education.
uPrincipal assistance with non-responsive households.
uFailure to pay could result in exclusion from certain school activities, reporting to the Manteca Unified School District Health Services, collection procedures, and referral to appropriate social service agencies.
Parents are being notified via:
uletters mailed weekly on pink paper stuffed in an envelope marked urgent,
uand direct contact
High school lunches jumped 50 cents this year to $2.75 while elementary lunches are up 25 cents to $2.25. Other prices are $1.25 for elementary breakfast (students at campuses that are Breakfast-in-Classroom sites are not charged for breakfast), $1.50 for high school breakfast, $3 for adult breakfast, $4.50 for an adult lunch, $3.50 for a sibling lunch, $1.25 for water (schools do have drinking water faucets) , and 50 cents for milk.
During the 2016-2017 school year Manteca Unified served 4,955,736 meals including 2,228,367 breakfasts, 2,382,894 lunches, 47,766 snacks, 152,587 suppers, and 89,742 summer meals. On an average school day — excluding summer meals — the district serves 27,033 meals. Overall enrollment is just under 24,000.
Page noted that in some cases parents may not realize they are eligible for free or reduced lunches. In addition the maximum income limits were raised this year. The district has been working to get that message to parents. Already in the first three days the district received 3,000 applications, up significantly from the first three days last year. Families have to reapply each year. Under federal law if they do not reapply by Sept. 18, they will have to start paying for meals.
At the end of last school year, 59.5 percent of all students qualified for reduced and free lunches. That’s down from more than 62 percent several years ago.
A sliding scale based on household size is used to determine eligibility,
To qualify for free lunches a two member household can’t make more than $21,112 a year, a three member household more than $26,546, a four member household more than $31,980, a five member household more than $37,414, a six member household more than $42,848, a seven member household more than $48,282, and an eight member household more than $53,716. You add $5,434 for each additional family member.
To qualify for reduced price a two member household can’t make more than $30,044 a year, a three member household more than $37,777, a four member household more than $45,510, a five member household more than $53,243, a six member household more than $60,976, a seven member household more than $68,709, and an eight member household more than $76,442. You add $7,733 for each additional family member.