PRINEVILLE, OR -- The Crook County School District is struggling to recoup $41,000 in unpaid lunch debt, accrued by 681 students. Finance Director Anna Logan says the district has warned parents they could be sent to collections, but so far, that's a threat with no teeth. She hopes there's another way to get the debt paid, "In talking with the collections representative, I just didn't realize the impact it would have on families as far as they will have their wages garnished, potentially, they'll have court costs, there are a lot of impacts that can happen."
Schools aren't allowed to tell the student there's no money in their account because of House Bill 3454, known as the "Anti Lunch-Shaming" law, passed last year by the Legislature. They can only talk with parents. And, Logan says, the debt continues to grow, "Some people just aren't going to pay their bills. It's a sad reality and it's not something I can fix. it's just the way it is."
It's a sticky situation, she says, because HB-3454 created unintended consequences, "Really, what happens is, revenue goes down if the money doesn't come in. So, when people don't pay, we have less money to work with. And, over time, we do have to start considering, 'what do we cut'?" She tells KBND News, "What it comes down to is, we're here to serve the student, and we don't want to inflict any emotional harm on students. On the flip side, we still have costs and we need to cover those costs."
Logan hopes the lack of funds won't result in a decrease of food quality or a reduction in staffing, "It's just a really hard situation to be in. We're not facing that today, but it's a potential that we could face it in the future." She adds, "We're going to have to revisit it because our balances keep growing; and if there's absolutely no recourse other than collections, that may have to be the direction that we go."