Meals will no longer be pulled from trays

January 28, 2006|By Gary Dodds

A late December Herald-Mail news article regarding the Washington County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services procedures misrepresented the actual day-to-day operations in Washington County's school cafeterias.

As I indicated in my comments to your reporter, we established a procedure in our cafeterias to provide an alternative meal for students who have accumulated outstanding debts.

Our procedure is similar to other food service departments across Maryland. We substitute an alternative meal only after repeated notifications to the parents regarding the amounts due. On rare occasions, a student may have received a meal that was then removed in order to receive a substitute under this procedure.

Because health regulations do not permit uncovered foods to be reissued to others, these few meals would have been discarded. Our cafeteria personnel have not been throwing away significant amounts of food on a day-to-day basis.


The debt-elimination procedure was implemented in 2002 in order to reduce charge deficits that were running as high as $20,000 per year. Since that time, the procedure has been effective in reducing charge deficits to less than $5,000 per year. Our program operates as an enterprise fund, which means it is a self-sustaining department. Revenues generated only cover the actual costs.

Debts that are not repaid affect the capacity of our department to continue to meet our bills. The federal government subsidizes the meal program, and any student whose family meets federal eligibility requirements can receive free and reduced-price Meals. Local tax dollars do not subsidize the program. Since 2002, we have aggressively identified students who qualify to ensure that students who need assistance receive it.

The mission statement for the Food and Nutrition Services Department is to serve nutritious meals in a positive manner, while maintaining financial soundness.

Our intent is never to embarrass a student in order to receive payments for charges. In order to ensure that students are not made uncomfortable, the cafeteria staff will no longer remove a meal once it has reached a student's tray.

However, staff will continue to identify those whose parents have outstanding lunch debts, contact them in multiple ways to seek payment, and provide an alternative meal to these students at the beginning of the line.

In the event that parents do not want their child to be able to purchase la carte items, parents should notify the Food and Nutrition Services Department to block the purchase of those food items.

Parents with questions about their child's account can contact my office anytime at 301-766-2893 to receive balance information and meal transaction reports. We can also work out a payment plan for parents if they cannot provide full payment for debts. I would also encourage parents to apply for the meal-assistance program if they believe they qualify.

For any child who was embarrassed by this exception practice, I would like to offer my sincerest apology as this was not the intent of any food service worker or our policies.

Gary Dodds is supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services for Washington County Public Schools.

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