Dr. Mark Toback, the Hoboken Superintendent of Schools, is quoted in the Hoboken Reporter defending his administration’s decision to force district students to eat egg salad sandwiches or not get any lunch at all if the family has not paid the school food bill. He said there is symbolism in the policy, but I see it as nothing other than dereliction of the district’s primary mission to educate children.
The article described how the Hoboken School District failed to collect lunch payments from parents over a period of 8 years, amassing a deficit of almost 1 million dollars. More than half of the deficit, over $618,000, was reached just in the 2008-2009 school year. How can the district allow this situation to get so out of control? Perhaps the fact that the school business administrator position has turned over 6 times in that period of time has something to do with this result where no one was watching the books.
District administrators should take responsibility and find solutions. First, they should admit that they made a mistake and realize that few people are going to willingly pay a bill that arrives years late. Administrators should look at creative ways to collect the overdue bills, such as offering amnesty or discounts if parents enroll in a payment plan. In many cases, the only realistic solution may be to forgive the debt, cut their losses and move on.
Dr. Toback endorses the lunch vendor’s decision to replace a cheese sandwich, the previous “deadbeat lunch” with an egg salad sandwich which ironically, is costlier to produce. He admits that the reason is that “kids may not like it.” This policy is wrong on multiple levels as it clearly uses food as punishment for children and encourages food waste. Is this the lesson we want to teach children?