Columbia Public Schools chooses agency to tackle lunch debt
COLUMBIA - The Columbia School board has chosen Hawthorn Recovery Services, Inc. as its collection agency to help the district with its school lunch program debt.
The Nutrition Services department had been looking into collection agencies for a few months after accumulating a debt of more than $100,000 in unpaid lunches.
The collection agency would help follow up with parents on behalf of Columbia Public Schools. Hawthorn Recovery Services, Inc. will send a series of three letters to parents or guardians during a 90 day period. Columbia Public Schools will still handle all inbound phone calls regarding individual debts. The company will charge $5.50 per account for the series of letters with a minimum cost of $1,000.
Director of Nutrition Services, Laina Fullum said CPS still feeds children regardless of how much debt that child has. Fullum said the department would want the collection agency to be respectful because they do not want to alienate their students. Collection agencies would give families multiple options such as payment plans.
"It's about working with their customers making sure that they understand what their options are," Fullum said.
School Board President James Whitt said the school district will make calls and send emails before families are sent to the collection agency.
"If we're finding that families are unresponsive in the long term, that's when it goes to the collection agency. So there's steps put in place to resolve those issues before it goes to Hawthorn," Whitt said.
Fullum said about one third of all the families that owe money now qualify for free and reduced meals. She said she believes families not filling out the free and reduced meal application may contribute to the large debt.
KOMU 8 News reached out to Hawthorn Recovery Services, Inc. about how they plan to collect money from families and they did not return our calls as of Noon Wednesday.