SF school lunch programs losing money

March 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
While San Francisco schools face major budget cuts, the district is also at fault for losing tens of thousands of dollars every year in their school lunch program. It seems some officials are not keeping track of who pays and who doesn't.

Schools are supposed to keep track of students who are given a free or reduced price meal. Then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses the district. Wallenberg High School has a spreadsheet that keeps track those who qualify and those who don't. But first, parents must fill out this application.

"Lunch forms produce revenue. They bring money into the school and they bring money into the district," says Principal Aileen Murphy.

The problem is some families don't return the application. This was brought up last night at a budget committee hearing.

"The form is incredibly intimidating. It asks for all sorts of financial information. It's phrased in very intimidating language," says Rachel Norton who is a parent.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are lost because some principals don't encourage families to hand in the forms. So, the district doesn't get reimbursed and is left paying for some of these meals.

On top of this, some schools allow students or groups to sell food on campus. Again, this means the district doesn't get reimbursed.

In fact, district policy says vendors like taco stands are not allowed to sell food behind or directly in front of the school.

"I don't understand why principals think this policy is not a policy. Because they would never dare to violate other school district policies. We would be on them so fast if they were not implementing the sexual harassment policy or the academic policies. Why do they think and why do we act as though this policy is not a policy? " says school board member Jill Wynns.

Fifty-five percent of students receive free or reduced price meals, costing the district and the Federal School Lunch Program $16 million dollars a year.

"The root of the problem is that the reimbursement rate that comes from the federal government is standard across the U.S.," says Nancy Waymack of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Because costs are higher in San Francisco, the district has a shortfall of one million dollars a year.

The school board will now demand that all principals follow this policy. The board will also ask the superintendent to find and implement mechanisms to keep track of who eats and who pays.