Where is the story?

October 7, 2011

Julian Crocker

OPINION By JULIAN CROCKER

Where is the story? The article that appeared in the Cal Coast News this week, entitled “No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”, gave the impression that either the Coast Unified School District was somehow “inflating” the numbers of students who qualify for federal subsidy for meals commonly referred to as “Free or Reduced Price Lunch” in order to receive more federal funding than it is eligible for; or that the Superintendent of Schools for the district is trying to qualify for subsidized meals for his two children who attend district schools.

If either of these inferences were true, then it might have been a story. However, neither is true and some innocent people have been caused unwarranted embarrassment and stress. An adequate review of the facts and some common sense would have shown that there is no story.

First, on the matter of receiving federal funding to assist low income students. Since the mid-60’s the federal government has provided additional funding for public and private schools that is targeted to meet the educational needs of students from low-income families. The purpose of the money is to assist school districts to enhance the education for these students as one means of mitigating the debilitating effects of poverty on their lives and future. School districts apply for these funds based on the number of students whose gross family income for 2011-2012 is $41,348 or lower for a family of four. Obviously, it is in our students’ best interests if all students who qualify are reported and funded. So, yes, a district should try to maximize the federal funding for which it qualifies.

The use of the federal Free and Reduced Price Eligibility information is the most common method of identifying students who qualify for additional educational funding. All school districts, as well as private schools, in our county use this method and have been doing so for a number of years. This practice is subject to the annual independent audit reviews for both the school food service program and the school district budget as well as federal compliance reviews. The practice has never been questioned since it conforms to federal guidelines.

In order to identify all qualified students, most districts encourage all families to complete the form, not just those who may qualify. This process is more efficient and also lessens the obvious risk of embarrassing students by having only a selected group complete the form. The district reviews the forms to determine how many children qualify based on the income criteria and then notifies the parents. That is exactly the process used by the Coast Unified School District and all local school districts for the sole purpose of insuring that as many students who are entitled to additional funding and services can receive them. Last year, the district received $89,000 in federal funds based on this process. So what is the story…“District Follows Authorized Practice”?

Second, the implication in the story is that the Superintendent was attempting to qualify for Free and Reduced Price Lunch for his own children. Based on the district’s request of all parents, the Superintendent submitted the form as requested. The family clearly did not qualify and their form was discarded just as it, and many others, have been each year. Over half of the students in the district do qualify.

This implication also fails the common sense test. Why would the Superintendent of Schools in a small tightly knit school district where his salary is public knowledge think his children could qualify for a “free lunch”? Answer: he didn’t. So, what is the story? “Superintendent Follows the Rules”?

Unfortunately, a family, including young children, has been needlessly subjected to public humiliation and invasion of privacy (the forms include social security numbers) due to an apparent desire to create a flashy story where none existed. I would give the writer high marks for a catchy headline, but an F for homework and accuracy.

Julian Crocker is the San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools.


Loading...
MaryMalone

The problem with this issue is this: different officials give different stories, and their stories change over time.


I’m sorry. That’s what happens in a coverup.


Typoqueen

I feel that this is a big deal for nothing. I get this form every year for slew of children. I simply toss it in the bin. I can see how some would fill it out and send it in but it’s not necessary. I’m glad that these forms are sent home for those that need them. We have enough to worry about without throwing in what might have been a simple mistake.


MaryMalone

His kids got free lunches for 2 years. His “the-dog-ate-my-homework” excuse (secretary making a mistake) is ludicrous and insulting.


People were encouraged to apply, even if they didn’t qualify. If they applied, they committed fraud. Those who encouraged them to commit fraud, using their power as a public official, are also culpable in that fraud.


In addition, that information has been distributed to who-knows-how-many agencies, who have distributed it to other agencies. If those agencies use consultants for data analysis, then consultants have that personal data (and SS#). Many data-analysis firms also sell targeted lists for advertising.


I hope you can see this is a much bigger problem.


JRinCambria

How would you know his kids got a free lunch, when your to busy spending your day writing comment. You should join the Wall Street protest!!!!!


Typoqueen

At this point I don’t see it as a big problem. I haven’t heard the superintendent’s side of this yet. I have enough kids to know that they don’t’ encourage us to apply. It comes with a slew of paperwork at the beginning of the year along with the bus forms the school polices etc.. No one is required or even asked to fill out this free lunch form. This type of form has been stuck in our beginning of the year packets since I was in school and that was a long long time ago.


Until I hear the whole story I’m not jumping on the bandwagon.


SLOChuck

Dear any agency that is redistributing MY tax money to others,

Feel free to NOT give my hard-earned money to anyone who feels “embarrassed” to take it.

Thank you,

SLOChuck


PS. Why can’t the schools send home a letter to all students stating that the free lunch application forms are available in the school’s front office? If the parent comes in to pick up a form, then there’s little to no “embarrassment’ to the children. God knows, I spend enough time in my child’s school office that I wouldn’t think twice about seeing anyone else in there.


Typoqueen

If I had to be on some type of public assistance I would be embarrassed. I would rather them be embarrassed then just take the assistance and then say kiss my butt. At least they have a conscience and feel bad about having to resort to public assistance. Or are you just angry that some kids might get their only meal of the day at school paid by us the taxpayers. Is your anger at the hungry kids?


MaryMalone

Mr. Crocker, has the parents information been shared with Mrs. Adams consulting firm? What contracts does she have with your district, and where can we find the specifics of those contracts?


Bob

This is a game played in every school district in this state and probably across the nation. Even parents who do not wish to be part of the program are heavily & persistently encouraged to participate by being told it gives the school more federal funding to help their child’s education.


I suspect that Coast Unified was just a few applications short of having the minimum percentage of students on lunch assistance to qualify for additional funding. In all likelihood the system was gamed and they got caught. Croker’s excuse is. Hey we’ve been doing it for 40 years just like everyone else, what’s the big deal!


They should be teaching our children the values of integrity, character, citizenship along with the academics we expect. Not how best to cheat the system in order to get ahead.


MaryMalone

I am addressing this separately from my previous post because I think this is one of the major issues of this fraudulent practice.


The parents who don’t qualify, but submit the forms anyway (with their signature and, in some cases, part of their social security number)–are they aware that this information is being used for many purposes, not just for assessing those in need of subsidized school lunches? Do they know that this information will be shared with other agencies, and perhaps consultants like the wife of the superintendent?


That this information–which includes the number of children in the household, their annual income and part of their SS#, as well as other demographic data–will be held on computer servers in ever-increasing numbers, as one agency (thanks to the requirement to sign to have the information passed on to other agencies and entities) shares with another and with another agency?


Worse, for every server holding that personal information, that is just one more risk of that information being gained and used by hackers.


And, as we all know, once that information hits the internet, it is there forever. It is impossible to track down all the copies and force each website carrying them to remove them from the server.


Sending home the form in the packet of beginning-of-the-year paperwork parents must complete, encouraging people who do not qualify for the subsidy to apply for it, with the purpose of actually harvesting data to qualify for other federal funding, is underhanded, dishonest and unethical. Indeed, it is actually obtaining that information by fraudulent means.


If your intentions are so lofty, then simply draw up a separate form asking all parents to submit information which can be used by the district to apply for many different federal grants and programs? Include full disclosure about which agencies will get the data, and the other agencies those first agencies will be sharing the information with. Include an explanation of the possible ramifications of providing that data and SS#.


In short, don’t pull a bait-and-switch scam on the parents, by asking the information for one purpose and then using it however you damned well want afterwards.


I’d be interested to know how many parents, after the data they innocently supplied to your district and that data starts being shared throughout the nation, start receiving solicitations for health insurance for their kids or education-related phone and mail solicitations.


MaryMalone

In order to identify all qualified students, most districts encourage all families to complete the form, not just those who may qualify. This process is more efficient and also lessens the obvious risk of embarrassing students by having only a selected group complete the form. “


The fact that you encourage those who know they do not qualify to submit the forms, which must bear their signature and, in some cases, part of their SS#, just makes it worse. Don’t you understand this?


You have, using the power of your public office, encouraged parents to apply for a program for which they do not qualify. Some would consider that application to be fraudulent since, before they signed it, they knew they did not qualify. You, using your power as a public official, encouraging them to submit these fraudulent applications makes you the head of organized fraud.


And as far as your excuse of “All school districts, as well as private schools, in our county use this method and have been doing so for a number of years. This practice is subject to the annual independent audit reviews for both the school food service program and the school district budget as well as federal compliance reviews. The practice has never been questioned since it conforms to federal guidelines.“:


1. Must I treat you like a child and remind you that, just because everyone else jumps off of a cliff doesn’t mean you should jump off of a cliff?


Using that logic, all of those in the City of Bell who were arrested for fraud, embezzlement, using the Brown Act as toiletpaper, and many other crimes, should never have been investigated and arrested because “everybody else was doing it.”


Really, that is the weakest defense of someone who has done wrong.


2. The intention for encouraging parents to commit fraud by applying for a federal subsidy for which they knew they were not entitled is irrelevant. As our mothers used to tell us, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


If someone submits a fraudulent tax return to the IRS because they need the money for their family’s needs, does that mean they get a free pass at trying to defraud the federal government?


3. There is not enough known about these audits to judge whether or not they were even allowed to make such a decision as to whether the practice of the district leader encouraging people he knew did not qualify to submit forms seeking federal subsidies is legal.


Was that issue specifically allowed to be addressed in these audits? Was the issue addressed in the audits? Who did these audits? and what connections, if any, did they have to district staff and administration?


pasoparent5

If what Julian Crocker says is correct, Coast Unified needs to revise its policy. He says ALL families are encouraged to fill out free-lunch paperwork, regardless of income. Sounds like a scam to me. Sounds like the school administrators are greedy and hope some families just slip through and get wrongly qualified when they really shouldn’t. Ahhh….more federal money for Coast Unified.


also, Crocker states that having all families fill out free-lunch paperwork just makes sense. “This process is more efficient and also lessens the obvious risk of embarrassing students by having only a selected group complete the form.”


More efficient? Crocker, don’t forget that tax dollars pay for your salary and the bloated salaries of school administrators. So, as a manager, you think it’s OK to have some school clerk waste hours by wading through stacks of paperwork, hoping to find the families that really qualify? Absurd.


And stop worrying about some “obvious risk” that a poor family will have to endure by turning in a flippin’ piece of paper!! So it’s OK that tax dollars pay for a kid’s breakfast and lunch at school (whether or not they’re even an American citizen!) but Crocker’s concern is that the kid will be embarrassed? Newsflash, Crocker. It’s called REAL LIFE.


We drive our kids to school in an older model not-so-great car that’s paid off. Who cares?! I’m not embarrassed. We life in a house that needs some maintenance. Whoopee! I’m not embarrassed. My kids get second-hand clothes. We’re not embarassed. My kids get boring homemade lunches and despite Crocker’s encouragement, we’d NEVER apply for so-called “free” school lunches, even if a school bureaucrat like Crocker informed us to do so.


Crocker, you found time to pen this ridiculous opinion piece so now you should find time to do your actual job–improving our schools. Visit the crowded classrooms and see the run-down facilities where our kids go on a daily basis. (Trust me, the school sites suck in comparison to your nicely-landscaped and freshly painted County Office of Education building) Pry yourself away from your six-figure job and your comfy offices in SLO and get out “in the field” and see what you can do to actually help students, teachers and parents instead of wasting our tax dollars by using your time to defend a fellow school administrator.


MaryMalone

They say “all parents were encouraged,” but there have been two different posters who have stated they did not fill out the form, yet got denial letters for the subsidized lunch program later.


Others have claimed that the school district fills out the forms themselves and submits them to whomever and whenever, without the parents ever knowing.


I really think the State AG and State Auditor need to get involved here. We can’t trust the County to do anything but a sham “investigation,” so we have to go straight to the State level.


jackbnimble

I understand that Mr. Adams wasn’t trying to score free lunches for his kids. But I’m still not clear what happened. How did his kids “get qualified.” How can the Superintendent in small tightly knit school district either incorrectly fill out of the form or incorrectly approve the form?


MaryMalone

At this point, no one but Adams and his wife know if he was trying to get free lunches for his kids.


This practice is itself fraudulent, so I certainly am not going to give those who are involved in the practice the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their ethics and honesty.


1 2 3