Lunch Accounts in Haverford School District Part I

cafeteria of chatham park

Chatham Park’s Pancake Breakfast 2009.

A few years ago when I was on the board of the Chatham Park PTO, I had a lengthy conversation with the food director of Haverford School District (HSD). I’ll get to why I had the need to chat with the Director in a second. First let’s think about what happened in a Texas town and on Facebook over school lunches: Bus driver Johnny Cook went onto Facebook, voiced his frustration over one of his students being denied lunch for lack of funds, and was promptly fired for doing so.

Here’s Mr. Cook’s post:

A middle schooler got on my bus this evening and said mr johnny im hungry. I said why are you hungry buddy? Didn’t you eat lunch ? He said no sir I didn’t have any money on my account. I said they would let you charge it? No sir.

Huh! What! This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat. Are you kidding me? I’m certain there was leftover food thrown away today. But kids were turned away because they didn’t have .40 on there account .

As a tax payer, I would much rather feed a child than throw it away. I would rather feed a child than to give food stamps to a crack head. My number is (…) the next time we can’t feed a kid for forty cent, please call me . We will scrape up the money.

This is what the world has come to.

Mr. Cook is looking for another job while the country looks to him as a seemingly lone voice over what is being called “school hunger:” when students are denied lunch at school because their parents/guardians owe lunch money.

Social media and employment issues aside, the bus driver’s firing off about his district’s lunch system and his subsequent firing from his job hit a nerve across the US. School hunger happens all over the country, and frustrating cafeteria woes seem par for the course in any public school system.

Each school has its own way of dealing with school hunger and lunch money processing. In an overwhelming majority of districts, children are given a supplementary meal even if they cannot pay. There are also federal and state aid systems for lunch assistance. This is all red tape, though; we all know how things can get complicated. Parents don’t always fill out the required paperwork or pay their lunch money bill even when they are able. School cafeteria staff feel themselves being pulled between trying to balance the under-funded food service budgets and trying to get underfed kids balanced meals.

Now back to our own system in the Haverford School District. I had the opportunity to talk with the Director of Food Services a few years ago because a few of the parents were confused about lunch money processes at Chatham Park. These parents were sending in $5, $10 or more to pay for a $2.50 (at the time) lunch, but receiving no change in return. Their children would report that the check0ut person would tell them “No Change” or “You’re done” and then she would shoo them along.

I found out that the children paying in cash most probably had a deficit on their accounts and the checkout person was applying the change from the sale to that deficit. The Director and I had an hour-long conversation about this. I couldn’t imagine how he could efficiently track the funds going in that way. Also, the opportunity for theft was high on the part of the checkout person, the child herself or other children or adults. The Director said that the solution to this going forward would be to get parents to sign up to, the online system the district uses for managing money.

This “keep the change” approach was a bit iffy to me, but as we talked, the woes of the school lunch system slowly became apparent: the system always works on an overall deficit and some families never manage to pay their balances. Nevertheless, the Director assured me, children are never turned down from a meal in our district. They will always be fed. But that means the district needs to be vigilant in getting the money its owed by families, and the “keep the change” action was part of that. Selling snacks also works into the equation, as they are big profit-makers.

In Part II of this post, we’ll talk about and the problems some of the parents have been experiencing with the system. You can add your own stories in the comments there. Please see Part II.



  1. […] Part I of this post, we discussed the viral FB post about school lunches and introduced the subject of the Haverford […]