School lunches open Pandora’s Box

October 10, 2011

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

Clarification: The state’s report on Cayucos Elementary’s percentage of students on the free or reduced lunch program appears to be incorrect as the report misstates the number of students in the school and the 100 percent is based on that number. The report appears to be correct in relation to other numbers except for the countywide number. It is also questionable as it uses Cayucos’ incorrect percentage to form an overall percentage. Cayucos Elementary Superintendent James J. Brescia said 25.8 percent of his students are on the free or reduced lunch program.

School lunches are big business — particularly if Uncle Sam is picking up the tab. And the increasingly imaginative quest by California school officials to qualify for more and more federal dollars is shaping a system that some are calling fraudulent.

Wealthy districts are encouraged to compete with poor ones for the dollars available, as district officials seek to maximize the numbers of their needy students. Rigid oversight is virtually non-existent. And it’s not small potatoes. At stake are $1.86 billion in currently budgeted funds in the federal free and reduced meal program, $151.2 million in state dollars — amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for individual districts.

In addition to funds provided for free and reduced meals, many federal, state and private funding programs depend on the percentage of a district’s students approved for free and reduced lunches. These numbers are used to determine which districts receive monies slated to help impoverished students.

In California, there are 20 different grants, entitlements or appropriations available to school districts — some of which look at higher percentages of needy students when determining which school with more than 40 percent free lunches should receive limited grant monies.

For example, for schools to be eligible for the $25 million that Microsoft provides in technology vouchers each year, at least 40 percent of the attending students must be “eligible to receive free or reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program,” according to the California Department of Education website.

“Each profile depends on how the law was written that created the fund whether it is a grant, entitlement or appropriation,” said Tina Jung, a public information officer with the California Department of Education. “All children who qualify do not get free lunches.”

And while San Luis Obispo County school officials contend students listed as eligible who are not impoverished do not take advantage of the free lunches, some oceanfront districts such as Cambria are ranked higher on the poverty scale than the community of Paso Robles.

Coast Unified School District (CUSD) Superintendent Chris Adams’ reportedly has told some parents in his district that as many as 90 percent of district students qualify for free or reduced lunches. The percentage compiled by the state for CUSD is 54.9 percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported the average income in Cambria in 2009 at $89,903. Families earning incomes of under $50,000 make up only 10.1 percent of the Cambria population.

By contrast, Templeton Unified considers only 13.2 percent of its students to be qualified for the free and reduced lunches, according to the California Department of Education website.

When the names of Adams’ two children turned up last week on the district’s free lunch list, it generated questions about the requirements to participate in the program. Adams and his wife, Julie, report a monthly income of $26,000, and would not qualify for such a program.

But the only answer sought by the district was the source of the “leak” of the Adams’ signed lunch application.

School board trustees immediately launched an investigation, retaining Sacramento attorney Roman Munoz to track down the initiator. Munoz put a muzzle on CUSD officials, but not before Adams angrily denied that either of his children ever received a free lunch from the district, despite claims of people with access to the list.  Munoz later described the inclusion of the superintendent’s youngsters on the list as “a clerical error.”

Adams said an explanation of the matter was “simple” but that he could not discuss it because of the district investigation — which he demanded.

CSUD Board President Cindy Fratto declined to comment on the matter. But the state’s education chief told his staff last week that he has an interest in investigating the matter, also.

Whatever its source, the leaked form has put the spotlight on methodology used to determine the number of impoverished students in any given school district. Districts by law must provide access to free, reduced and full price lunches for all students, but can be reimbursed the cost under the federal and state programs.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally funded program overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, and administered in California by its education department’s Nutrition Services Division. The lunch program is open to all children, but only free or reduced in price for those whose income level qualifies them for inclusion in the program.

For example, a family of six with household annual earnings of $38,389 would qualify for free meals, snacks and milk.  A family of four with an annual income of $40,793 would qualify for reduced price meals and snacks.

State data suggests that 41.8 percent of San Luis Obispo County school children qualify for free or reduced lunches — right at the level required to qualify for reimbursement. The higher percentage garners the highest amount of funding.

California counties with the highest percentage of claimed eligibility are Merced, 75.7 percent Tulare, 74.8 percent; and Imperial, 72.6. Lowest include Placer, 25 percent; Marin, 26.6 percent; and El Dorado, 31 percent.

More than 3.4 million students were eligible for free or reduced price meals at California public schools last year – a nine percent increase from two years earlier, according to state figures. Nearly every county in the state experienced a substantial increase in the number of eligible students during the past three years, according to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.

Statewide, 281,696 more public school students became eligible. Nearly 60 percent of all public school students last year qualified, according to the foundation’s statistics. Of those, 84 percent had family incomes at or below $28,665 – 133 percent the federal poverty level for a family of four – making them eligible for free meals.

At the center of the free and reduced lunch debate is a federal form for qualification — one page in a large pile of papers distributed to parents at the start of every school year. Federal law requires that school administrators make the form available to all parents. The task of actually filling out the form to apply for free or reduced lunches and other meals is completely voluntary, as it asks for income data and other private information, such as social security numbers.

But district officials make concerted efforts to encourage all parents to fill out the lunch form, leaving to those same officials the interpretation of the resulting information, who than send numbers to the California Department of Education with almost no oversight. And some parents allege that this “encouragement” often takes the form of intimidation.

State education officials defend the current practices.

“I think all districts nationwide encourage families to fill out the applications, so that they have on record who is qualified for free and reduced fee meals,” said Janet Jendrejack, manager of the state department of education’s Nutrition Services Division. “Some districts even have application parties to encourage everyone to fill out the forms.”

Youngsters whose parents’ income disqualifies them for free or reduced lunches can still pay for their lunch, and the district receives a stipend per meal. Parents can decline to participate in the lunch program.

Jendrejack said department personnel “did check” with the CSUD district’s food services supervisors and were told that Adams “did fill out the forms” but that his children “never got free lunches.”

Jendrejack also expressed dismay about the Adams’ form being divulged publicly: “That is a matter of confidentiality. That’s what our focus is. It’s a huge concern.”

She had high praise for Adams himself: “We here at the department think that Superintendent Adams is setting a good example.”

Julian Crocker, superintendent of schools for San Luis Obispo County, told CalCoastNews last week that it is his “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.”

But Crocker said some parents whose children would qualify for the free or reduced lunch programs don’t fill out the forms “for whatever reason. He complained that “what they (those parents) 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. I don’t think it’s subterfuge,” Crocker said.


Loading...
standup

After doing some investigating, I discovered many people are getting this benefit that shouldn’t. We should demand that anyone who wants free lunches for their child must prove through tax returns for their household that they qualify. Anyone can defraud the taxpayers by filling out a form. Just ask the Adam’s family.


Cindy

According to the CDE website as it relates to the Free Lunch Program, the schools are required to confirm that the forms are accurate. They are supposed to request some means of proof to qualify the stated income that the parents claim. The CDE mentions that the district should keep a record of having confirmed qualified students by means of: “example” reviewing W2 forms or pay stubs or income tax return’s, etc.


From what I gather, someone like the ADAM’S CHILDREN who they claim were not receiving the free lunch were still enrolled as “qualified”. As Blackburn has pointed out, many grants intended for low income schools are awarded based on the % of qualified low income students. What a scam and if Adams told many parents that 90% of the students in the district are qualified for the free lunch program, it appears that they have a lot of explaining to do.


Last year alone, the CUSD received 77% of it’s revenue from local funding (derived from local tax revenues) to tune of $9,257,000 ($12,180. per student) . Include that with the added $2,800,000 they received from the State & Feds for a Grand Total annual budget of $12 Million or $15,896 per student!


standup

Cindy, I see it as fraud, plain and simple. These districts don’t want to really know that they have inflated numbers because that will result in lower dollars from the feds. Whomever is not doing their jobs in these districts needs to be investigated and potentially fired. Whomever is directing them to not get proper documentation should be charged with a crime for misappropriation of public funds. ALL free lunches need to go only to those who legitimately qualify.


shelworth

Just maybe it’s time for our Government to stop paying people to have children. The Government should get out of the social engineering business and just do what’s in the Constitution.

Kids are in school what, six hours at best? Why do they have to be fed during that time? Shouldn’t they be learning something instead?


Robert1

Stop it, you it make too much sense and we all know the guberment don’t make no sense!


Typoqueen

Let them eat cake.


MaryMalone

Why is it always the poor kids who are the collateral damage from the avarice and greed of folks like the Adams?


The problem isn’t deserving kids getting guaranteed one meal a day, five days a week, subsidized by the federal government. The problem is the soul-less greedy ba$tards like Adams and his wife how try to rig a program designed to give poor, hungry kids a lunch at school so that it turns into an illegal lunch program for the elites like the Adams.


standup

If parents can’t be responsible with their sexual organs, the should get less benefits like China. If people continue to breed like rabbits, we will eventually eat ourselves out of house and home throughout the entire world. Anyone in this day and age that has more than two children is selfish to say the least. The earth cannot support the continued human population growth. Putting your irresponsible sex in front of future generations is lame.


Typoqueen

As unbelievable as it might sound, I agree with you. But the kids are here now and we can’t let them starve.


Disgusted

You’re right, Typo. But, those who truly need the help should receive it, and not be shortchanged by those that don’t. There’s only so much to go around…..


Typoqueen

My issue is that I’m not sure that this story is all that accurate. Yesterday while listening to Dave the School Supe for Cayucos called in to dispute the figures given in this article regarding his district. He claims that that %100 poverty level is wrong, I believe he said that it’s closer to 20 or 30% which statistically is low right now. I also know from personal past and current experience that they don’t require nor ask anyone to fill out those free meal apps. as opposed to what I keep reading about the districts ‘requiring’ or ‘asking’ parents to fill them out. So if those bits of info are wrong it makes me sceptical about the whole thing. Due to current unemployment levels and poverty stats I would expect to see 50% or so on free meal programs, perhaps a bit more. That’s a sign of the times and I would hate to see the kids that depend on these low cost meals get shortchanged because state of local figures might be off.


Cindy

“I also know from personal past and current experience that they don’t require nor ask anyone to fill out those free meal apps. ”


Well then, perhaps you can explain Mrs Adams statement. Didn’t she say it was to set an example that everybody should fill out the form no matter whether or not they know that they couldn’t possibly qualify? I mean, perhaps you can explain why a family earning and annual income of $330K filled out the form?


Typoqueen

I can’t explain that, I can only go by what I know from personal experience and no one in 19 years with my ton of children has ever asked or encouraged me to fill that form out. Plus for many years I have helped sort out the paperwork from those packets and there has never been any emphases on them but I do know that a lot of people dont’ send them in. I don’t know about all this stuff with Adams, as I said I’m sceptical on the accuracy of the story. Perhaps it’s right but until it all comes out I’m not going to place blame or judgment. Perhaps there’s something screwy with Adams and perhaps that needs more scrutiny but I’m just not sure what to believe and I don’t want to condem the whole system because of one person. Maybe I’m wrong, time will tell.


MaryMalone

I also know from personal past and current experience that they don’t require nor ask anyone to fill out those free meal apps.


TQ, is it a possibility that each school handles these school lunch program applications differently?


Two posters have posted here saying they never filled out applications yet, half-way through the school year, they received denial letters from the school.


Something is way hinky here.


Typoqueen

I don’t know, we’ve gone through 3 local schools. How could they get denial letters if they didn’t even fill out the apps? There is nothing that you fill out that gives out your financial info other than free bus use or free lunches or free health care from on site CHC. I’ve been helping out in the schools for a long time and I’ve never heard of this. Perhaps it’s happening but I’d be shocked. I do believe that all schools in a district handle these things the same way, probably the same apps.. As I said, I might be wrong but I need more proof than this before I jump on this bandwagon.


MaryMalone

This is my early suspicion, based on how the story coming from the district is shaping up.


Mrs. Adams is involved as a consultant in this school lunch program deal, and perhaps she was paid to fill out forms for everyone who didn’t submit them on their own, and then and submit them?


Again, something is way hinky here, and whatever Munoz the attorney found in his “investigation”….file it in the round file. He’s going to find for his clients, the school district.


Cindy

Mary, Mrs Adams was a hired consultant for the district up until 2 years ago when it was determined that Mr Adams should not be hiring his wife as an outside consultant. It’s hard to say what sort of structure she implemented where the oversight of the program is concerned. She definitely would have had a hand in it though. She stared that she encourages “everyone” to fill out the form and said she fills out hers to set an example. I believe she said “I throw my numbers out there to encourage others to do the same”. Yet her husband claims that someone else actually filled in the numbers on the form she filled out, go figure!


MaryMalone

Do you know for sure she is not consulting and having the contract overseen by another administrator?


Another possibility is that she could be running her billing through another contractor. I just saw this occur in a legal issue with a CSD and their attorneys. They didn’t want to show how much money was being paid for a “specialist” attorney they had to bring on board because their CSD attorney was not equipped to handle the issue.


asthecrowphlies

Cindy , prior to two years ago would you know how long Mrs. Adams was a consultant hired by her husband ?


MaryMalone

The breeding program in China isn’t such a good example. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7000931.stm]


latesurfer
MaryMalone

“Julian Crocker, superintendent of schools for San Luis Obispo County, told CalCoastNews last week that it is his “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.”

But Crocker said some parents whose children would qualify for the free or reduced lunch programs don’t fill out the forms “for whatever reason. He complained that “what they (those parents) 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. I don’t think it’s subterfuge,” Crocker said.


———————

I think Mr. Crocker is a poor choice for superintendent of schools if he believes it is not a subterfuge when you ask someone to apply for a federal subsidy, knowing they don’t qualify, but ask anyway as a means to get information from the entire group of people, with the information then being available to use for other purposes, as well. Some of this information is quite personal, such as family income and number of people in the household, as well as SS# in some cases.


sub·ter·fuge

   [suhb-ter-fyooj]

noun

an artifice or expedient used to evade a rule, escape a consequence, hide something, etc.


Typoqueen

For 19 years now I’ve had kids in this this system. As I heard a teacher call in yesterday on Dave’s show say, this free lunch app. has come home every year at the beginning of the year with a ton of paper work ie school policies, emergency notifications etc.. NEVER has anyone asked me to fill out the free meal form. The form is simply stuck in package, NOWHERE does it request all parents to fill it out. This has been done in all schools for at least 40 years.


MaryMalone

But are you sure all schools handle this particular application in the same way?


Typoqueen

I’m not sure but I believe that they do.


MaryMalone

I’m starting to think perhaps most of the schools handle it in the same basic way, except for the district where the administrator’s wife’s education consulting company provides contracted services.


It’s just too convenient…Adams becomes administrator, one of the things he administrates is the school lunch program, and his wife’s education consulting firm gets a contract with her husband’s district.


My instincts tell me Mrs. Adams is involved in this somehow, through her consulting company.


MaryMalone

Yet other posters have said there were just a few sheets of paper that came home to fill out. These are posters who regularly post here, posters with whom you and I often agree.


slowtime

I just had the form included with all the kids’ other school forms. No pressure to fill it out. I looked at the income scale, saw I did not qualify, and then just tossed the forms. I did not fill out the forms because I did NOT qualify! Doing so would be useless, a waste of some bureaucrats’ time and just plain wrong.


MaryMalone

Indeed, it is quite high-handed of Julian Crocker to ask those who don’t qualify to fill out the forms anyway. There is a good amount of detail in the form, and to vacuously ask parents–who have better things to do with their time than fill out detailed forms for programs for which they do not qualify–is both dismissive of the worth of the parents’ time and shows Crocker to be out of touch with the reality experienced by the students’ parents in the schools for which he is superintendent in SLOCo


Daniel Blackburn

I’ll be on Dave Congalton’s Home Town Radio show (920KVEC) at 4:05 p.m. today to discuss this report.


r0y

Thank you Dan for keeping on top of this. You and Karen are the 1-2 punch the public relies on to take it to those that need it (government or otherwise).


The truth may hurt some, but it will always set us free.


Disgusted

I’m curious if you’ve heard back frtom the North Coast administrator that called in to refute your numbers.


Typoqueen

Ditto, I was curious about that as well.


shelworth

Again, why would someone who can’t afford to raise a child have one? Or two or six? And in what amendment of the Constitution does it give the government the power to throw money at things like this? I would like to know how much the district is being charged per lunch too.


asthecrowphlies

AND AGAIN , I completely understand what you’re saying . I finally had a Sec-8 family move out of a rental , they took their sweet time to get out ( it wasn’t their dime ) , they destroyed the place , and took everything that wasn’t nailed down . Yet , I am happy to see them go . They started out with one child on sec-8 and welfare , now 10 yrs. later they have four children , still and continuously on sec-8 and welfare the whole time . I know that welfare and sec-8 are two different things maybe someone can explain it to me . I thought there was a time limit on these social services . Hey SHELWORTH , think of the medical cost of these kids , doctors , prenatal , delivery , nutrition , food subsidies , cash cards etc … you paid for it . Do not worry about the kids getting government lunches , for one of many reasons they want to stay home to home school . I do not mind home school , I just do not want to pay these people to stay home to do it . This is where they are smart and I am dumb , They get to stay home and home school in a ” PROGRAM ” , while I worked seven days a week to put my kids though college and pay for these people’s ” PROGRAM ” .


asthecrowphlies

I believe all highly evolved society help those that need a TEMPORARY helping hand . But common … really common !!!! Four kids for 10 years of continuos housing , financial , and medical support for a completely healthy two parent family . I think one of many reasons is that the Housing Authority ( Sec-8 ) and Welfare Agency are taking a page out of Adams book by padding their numbers for job security .


r0y

I have not read the California State Constitution, but just from my perusal I do not see much in there regarding this.


I know it’s not in the Federal Constitution of the United States, but that does not apply to a state matter (i.e. 10th Amendment)…


MaryMalone

Again, not too many people can psychically intuit what their future will be fore the next 20 years after they have a child.


Sufferin’ Jesus! Do you not understand that there are new homeless families every day–with parents who never thought they would EVER be unable to provide very well for themselves and their children?


Our country is only as strong as the weakest of its people.


Truly, this is not all about you. There is a bigger picture here.


This fraud being perpetrated by Adams, Crocker and the SLOCo schools is especially heinous because there are kids who really need the subsidized school lunch program. To hear of Adams’ kids gobbling up the free lunches that other kids need is disgusting.


danika

My parents raised 7 children on $.25 cents a day. We ate beans, spaghetti, mayo sandwiches, and grew our own garden. We also raised our own chickens. We worked not only at home but went out and picked walnuts as a family from the local orchards to make ends meet. We made $1.25 per gunny sack….To this day, I cannot pick up a walnut!


My parents never asked for assistance to feed, clothe, or shelter us. We would have been classified at below the poverty level, no doubt, but we learned the value of hard work and gained a healthy respect for others.


I cannot imagine my parents accepting “free” anything. They felt it was their responsibility to do for their children, not expect others to do it for them. After all, it was their decision to have 7 children.


Robert1

My dad held 2 jobs his whole adult working life and when things got really tough he asked my mom to go to work, which she did for 14 years as a grocery checker. We also had a huge garden with fruit trees and chickens along with a occasional steer. My parents raised 6 kids and all have never received government assistance.

Its the family environment that makes the person and you just have to work harder and longer if that’s what it takes to pay the bills. I also picked walnuts and weeded bean fields as a teenager, my brother picked oranges in his summer vacations. All of us own homes and many are well off because we too worked 2 jobs to get ahead.


pasoparent5

Thank you danika & robert1 for sharing your stories. It’s parents like yours who should be instilling a spirit of hard work and giving in their children instead of allowing laziness and an attitude of taking. Too many folks are “takers” and have grown accustomed to expecting “free” services and benefits from the government. Your folks worked hard and probably did without some luxuries yet I doubt you feel deprived; you’re probably thankful because everything you have–you worked for.


MaryMalone

Danika, I was raised by parents who raised us on their own, without public assistance. My father was severely injured in battle, but forced himself to work until he simply could no longer stand or move one side of his body. He then accepted the VA disability they had been trying to get him to take for over a decade. It was so hard for him to go on disability. We were taught to judge ourselves by the quality of work we did, so for my dad not to be able to work was very hard on him.


We always had a garden and fruit trees–on a large city lot. My mother raised and slaughtered chickens and turkeys, too.


However, that was back a few decades, when things were different, so I try not to pass judgment on the way parents manage their finances now.


We don’t know the situation with the families and, even if we did, for the LOVE OF GOD, this is about subsidized lunches for poor kids!


In the worst of times is when we need to pull together, if our country has any chance of surviving intact. I think we are getting pretty close to the worse of times.


racket

Here’s the other shoe! Thank you, Dan, you rock!