VIRGINIA BEACH -- Parents who don't pay school lunch bills in Virginia Beach could soon face serious consequences.
The school board will vote on a policy change that would allow city collectors to target parents racking up school lunch debt.
“The reality is that parents are responsible. Now, it is a better system to make sure that’s happening,” school board member Joel McDonald said.
Current school lunch policy: The board seeks to encourage families to pay whatever they reasonably can toward the price of the meal.
Proposed policy change: Parents/legal guardians are responsible for payment of the paid or reduced cost of the meal. The school division will submit all uncollected balances to the City of Virginia Beach for collection.
According to school board member Dan Edwards, school leaders have collected lunch debt in the past, but they need to officially change the policy. He explained turning bills over to city collectors is a last resort. Parents who don’t pay will get warnings and school officials will try to work out payments with them.
School officials said since unpaid lunch bills are carried over, the city will submit payment notices to guardians of students who owe more than $20 – regardless of what year that amount stems from.
"The total of unpaid balances as of June 30, 2014 was $58,557.47," VBCPS said in a statement Thursday. "However, accounts that were $20 or less overdue were not sent to the city for collection. Instead, those funds, which amounted to $30,186.89 of the $58,557.47 were rolled over to school year 2014-15 with the expectation that parents pay those outstanding balances."
The federal government offers a free and reduced lunch program for families meeting certain income requirements, but they must sign up for benefits.
“There might be people who are struggling and they don’t know if they qualify. Maybe more attention to the collection process will help identify that,” McDonald said.
If parents fail to pay lunch bills, students will never be denied a meal, according to the policy.
The board will vote on the new lunch rules at its August 19 meeting.