Town hires debt collector to get families to pay for school lunches

School officials in Cranston, Rhode Island are getting aggressive in seeking payment from parents in arrears for their kids' meals.

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

Giving new meaning the phrase “no free lunch,” school officials in Cranston, Rhode Island hired a private debt collector to compel parents to pay up on delinquent lunch money accounts.

Chief Operating Officer Raymond L. Votto, Jr. sent a letter to all parents in the district, informing them the district has hired Transworld Systems, a Delaware-based debt collector, to recover tens of thousands of dollars owed for school lunches

The school district located in suburban Providence, Rhode Island, serves approximately 11,000 students in 24 schools with grades pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. The district reported its 2018-19 budget at $157,579,491. The district allocates approximately $5,572 per pupil for instructional expenses.

Under the existing school lunch policy, parents are encouraged to prepay for lunches or to pay in cash on a daily basis. Children who didn’t pay were given meals and asked to make reimbursement within two days. Households that qualify for reduced or free lunch programs were asked to apply for the program.


“Once a student has charged five (5) meals (middle\high school $16.25 & elementary $12.50) and no payment has been received, that student will receive a lunch consisting of a sunny butter sandwich, fruit, and milk in place of a hot lunch,” according to the school policy cited on its website.

“This meal maintains the USDA standards surrounding reimbursable meals and will be charged at full price to the student’s account.”

According to, a news website affiliated with a Cranston-area television station which first reported the school lunch story, Votto said the district turned more aggressive in collecting for the meals after failing repeatedly to persuade parents to pay for school lunches that their children had already eaten. Votto said in the letter to parents that the school district wrote off $95,508 in unpaid lunches from September 2016 through June 2018.

Now, some three months into the 2018-19 school year, the district’s unpaid lunch balance is $45,859. “In the past, the school district has attempted to collect unpaid lunch balances without much success,” Votto wrote. “The District lunch program cannot continue to lose revenue.”

Transworld is expected to begin dunning Cranston parents next month. If parents continue not to pay up, the collection agency will report them to national credit bureaus and the delinquencies will show up on their credit reports.