It’s fine for a government official to take a stand, as long as he remembers who is picking up the tab.
Wyoming Valley West School District is in Luzerne County, and there’s little reason that it would usually attract national attention. According to measurements by Niche.com, the district’s report card is solidly average, with a B high school and elementaries that range from C+ to B-.
But twice in a week, the district ended up in the spotlight for something that isn’t about reading or writing or ’rithmetic. It was about lunch.
It started when the district sent out letters to parents warning them their children could be taken away and put in foster homes for unpaid lunch accounts.
Luzerne County officials have called those claims false, according to The Associated Press. Kids are removed for safety concerns, not as leverage for outstanding bills. Children aren’t collateral.
The district had $22,467.76 in red ink on their cafeteria books.
We know that because they subsequently were offered exactly that much money by Todd Carmichael, the CEO of La Colombe Coffee of Philadelphia.
But board President Joseph Mazur said no.
Why? Because he said the parents could afford to pay, according to Carmichael’s spokesman.
Carmichael didn’t care. He “just wants to wipe away this debt,” the spokesman said. And the board president doesn’t seem inclined.
Wyoming Valley West isn’t the only district that struggles with lunch debt. A school cafeteria isn’t a for-profit operation, and lots of districts accept donations.
The numbers are generally beyond a district’s control. There are food losses due to snow days or fewer kids buying on a given day. And, yes, some families owe money for lunches the kids ate.
But right now, Wyoming Valley West’s debt lies entirely at the feet of its president.
The families should pay their debts. But if they don’t, the weight will be felt by the taxpayers. Does Mazur have the right to reject Carmichael’s gift in the name of teaching some parents that there’s no free lunch?
It doesn’t seem so. A board’s duty is to its mission — educating children — and its constituents, and spurning help seems irresponsible to both.