Coast Unified lunch policy rationalized
October 14, 2011
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A lawyer for Coast Unified School District’s board of trustees repeated his interpretation Thursday of how the children of district superintendent Chris Adams came to be included on the free lunch list.
Adams and his wife, Julie, an education consultant, report a combined, estimated monthly income of $26,000.
Roman Munoz, of the Sacramento law firm Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard, told a crowded board room that the form had been filled out by Mrs. Adams with the thought she was “doing her duty” as a parent, and the information on the form was subsequently misinterpreted by a clerk at the district.
According to Adams, his children never received a free meal from the program; several sources dispute his contention, however.
The incident has peeled back the veneer on an apparent pattern of data manipulation, using information gathered on the forms to qualify and apply for a wide variety of state and federal grants funds.
Many school districts in the state — including CUSD — encourage parents to fill out the free and reduced lunch applications, whether or not they think they qualify. In fact, the state’s Department of Education endorses the practice, even encouraging districts to have “signing parties” to facilitate a large percentage of parents completing the forms.
A designated district employee, then, determines which children qualify for the lunch program from the information garnered from the forms. A higher number of impoverished students means more federal money at year’s end.
There is little or no oversight at this point, because the data on the forms is protected by confidentiality laws.
Munoz questioned the appropriateness of the public release of the Adams’ form. He was asked by trustees to determine the source of the leak, and only later added an inquiry into the Adams’ inclusion on the free lunch list.
Jude Basile, who has children in the district, told the board that the form clearly indicates that filling it out is optional.
“The superintendent’s family was sent a letter by the district telling them they were accepted into the Free Lunch program,” Basile said in follow-up comments. “The children were placed on the free lunch list at both the middle school and the grammar school. They were taken off the list after the superintendent’s application was ‘leaked’ to the county superintendent of education, and (Adams’) family received eligibility notification.”
Basile said questions remain: “Why would the superintendent’s family file the application for free lunch, indicating income amounts that clearly would not make them eligible? Why submit the form at all? How was his family approved for free lunch?”
Basile suggested that a straight answer from Adams when the question first arose would have settled the issue. Instead, he said, the board initiated its search for the source of the so-called leak.