Rhode Island's Cranston School District Under Fire For Hiring Collection Agency To Go After Unpaid Lunch Fees

Collection agencies can be voracious in their attempts to collect a debt, and it's legal in most cases for them to contact you by phone, email, or even come to your door. Their debt collection practices are utilized for many reasons, including collecting unpaid student lunch fees, apparently. Some parents in Rhode Island found that out the hard way via a school letter stating that a collection agency hired by the Cranston School District would be contacting them to collect outstanding lunch balances their children had accrued.

According to the letter sent to parents that was obtained by NBC 10 News, Raymond Votto Jr., the COO of the Rhode Island Cranston School District, wrote that the district had tried to collect the outstanding debt on the lunches previously, but did not meet with much success.

The Cranston School District told the news agency that it wanted the collection agencies to take a soft approach. They additionally said that the debt collectors would be mailing parents in lieu of calling them.

The move by the school to go after parents who owe an outstanding debt has captured national attention, and hasn't gone unnoticed by critics. People who didn't approve let their scorn and outrage be known on social media. One critic wrote on Twitter, "Rhode island's Cranston School District doesn't deserve your tax dollars."

Another outraged person took to Twitter to comment that the collection agency the Cranston School District hired was going after families that are behind on lunch fees for as little as $20. The user also wondered how much the contract between the school district and the collection agency was.

The move to hire the collection agency was an attempt to keep the school lunch program from continuing to lose revenue, Votto Jr. indicated.
"In an effort to reduce our unpaid balance, the District has retained the services of a collection agency. The company is Transworld Systems and they will begin their collection efforts effective January 2, 2019."
Also, according to the Cranston School District's COO, the district had already written off $95,508 in unpaid balances on school lunches in the time period between September 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018. He said the tally for it so far this academic year was already up to $45,859.

The situation pulls at many people's heartstrings, and Robyn Pennachia, whose grandmother was a lunch lady in the Cranston School District, took to social media to write that her "Nonnie would be heartbroken to see this happening." Lisbeth Pierce tweeted, "Why would you think parents could pay a collection agency when they can't pay the school[?]"

Lois Clemens has a grandson who goes to the elementary school in the Cranston School District. She told NBC 10 that she can sympathize with both sides of the issue. The grandmother said, "Yeah, $45,000 is a lot of money for the school district to not have, but then on the other hand I know what it's like not to have enough money."

According to NBC 10, Raymond Votto Jr. said, "We're feeding the children. That's not in dispute. We offer free breakfast." The Cranston School District also assured parents that students who owe a debt for their meals won't go hungry, and that they will continue to get the same meals as the other students.

Previously, an alternative entree had been offered when the students owed money, but the district said they stopped when they realized the kid's parents were not paying their past due lunch bills.