No such thing as a free lunch?
October 3, 2011
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
Children of a San Luis Obispo County school district superintendent were signed up for a federal free lunch program, causing some to wonder if school officials increase federal funding by routinely inflating estimates of poverty-level student numbers on program applications.
Chris Adams, superintendent of Coast Unified School District, and his wife make more than $26,000 a month. Nevertheless, Julie Adams filled out an application for their children to receive free lunches even though the program is only open to families showing income of 130 percent or more below the poverty line.
Chris Adams said an explanation “was simple” but he declined to discuss the application, noting his board of trustees has launched an investigation into what he called “a federal crime,” asserting the form “has been stolen from the district.” He said the idea that his school-age children would be receiving free or reduced lunches was “offensive, ridiculous.”
“I would love to give you an explanation but the problem is, there is an investigation going on,” Adams said. “The school board instigated it.”
Nevertheless, County Superintendent of Schools Julian Crocker said he believes a “proxy” search for impoverished students is the reason Adams’ wife would fill out a lunch form.
“It is possible that the Adams’ filling that form out is just within that context,” Crocker said. “That’s probably the reason he would fill that out — as would other parents who clearly don’t qualify for the free and reduced lunches — and those forms would most likely just be put aside (rejected). But the district does receive a certain amount of money because of poverty. I don’t think it is subterfuge.”
Adams scoffed at Crocker’s comments: “Julian doesn’t even have a tenth of the information… so anything he said was just his opinion. The problem is that information is confidential.”
Crocker, too, wondered about the information’s source: “I am concerned about how this information came to you,” he said. “That this information would even get out because it’s supposed to be confidential.”
Adams said that in time the story of his children’s acceptance into the program would be explained.
“What I want is for the investigation to be completed, and once it is completed, you will get your information” Adams said. “But I’m not going to get in the middle of this nonsense. I’m really not losing any sleep over it. I’ll tell you everything there is to tell.
“I have nothing to hide. This is very irritating to me.”
Schools with the required number of children in the free lunch program receive state and federal Title I funds that can mean more than a $100,000 per school, according to the United States Department of Education website. The program provides supplemental funds to school districts with the highest student concentrations of poverty to help them meet school educational goals.
After CalCoastNews acquired a copy of Adam’s federal application, school officials launched a probe to determine how that document was obtained.
Roman Munoz, of the Sacramento law firm of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann and Girard, was retained to investigate the source of the document’s “leak;” his scope has now been widened by the board to determine if there has been abuse of the free lunch program.
The free-lunch program is administered under Title 1, an element of the No Child Left Behind Act, Crocker said. Qualified families “sometimes do not apply for whatever reason, so the school districts over the years have made a real effort — and not just Coast Unified — to have all families regardless of income fill out that form.”
There is nothing new in this, Crocker asserted.
“My understanding from districts is that it is fairly standard practice to ask all parents to fill out that form, understanding that many parents don’t exactly qualify for free and reduced,” he said. “But over the years, what has happened is, parents who don’t want to be identified for whatever reason, may not want to fill out the forms.
“But what they don’t understand is that the district uses that information for other things, other than free and reduced lunches. So it’s just easier to just ask everyone to fill them out. That way, over the years districts have been able to get that information from parents, and it does present a way for districts to get additional federal money.”