RENO, Nev. (AP) — Frustrated by growing debts, the Washoe County School District has discussed using debt collectors to recoup money from parents for unpaid school meals; something the district says has been done in Utah and elsewhere.

Students have racked up nearly $90,000 in unpaid meals in the first seven months of the school year, up from a record $66,000 in unpaid meals for all of the previous school, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported .

Attempts to stop the upward trend have been met with harsh community criticism. The district has considered policy changes, including giving alternative lunches to students with unpaid debts.

The current policy, established by the school board last May, allows elementary school students to run up unlimited debt and has zero consequences for parents who don't pay.

"The only thing that anyone could come up with . is collections," Chief Operations Officer Pete Etchart said.

He said this is the 11th consecutive year that the district has had a budget deficit.

A new report from the district's internal audit department said debt collectors would be used after other options are exhausted.

Meal debt has doubled every year since 2015. He said this year's debt could top $100,000.

The majority of the debt is from families that should be able to afford a school meal, the school district said.

Most of those who need help paying for lunch are already getting it, Etchart said. Roughly 44 percent of the district's 64,000 students are enrolled in the district's free and reduced lunch program, which provides free meals for students whose families make less than $45,510.

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"We're not talking about the low-income kids who can't afford a meal, I think it's really important to recognize that," Etchart said.

The report noted two school districts in Utah and one in Virginia already refer unpaid debts to collection agencies.


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal,

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