School district bullies steal kids’ lunch money

posted at 5:51 pm on February 7, 2013 by Mike Antonucci

The California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes released a scathing report accusing many of the state’s largest school districts of diverting millions of dollars of federal and state aid for the school lunch program to other areas.

Hopefully this will lead to a greater examination of school finances, since most of these abuses were uncovered by whistleblowers and not government overseers. However, I would like to focus on a different aspect – what this scandal reveals about school district communications.

The oversight report states:

As it continued to misappropriate millions of dollars from its cafeteria fund, Los Angeles Unified depleted a longstanding surplus and began running ever-increasing deficits in its food service program.

In January, 2009 – a few months before the state would learn the extent of Los Angeles Unified’s diversions from its cafeteria account – the district held a press conference to appeal for increased state meal subsidies. The district’s news release was headlined: “Cafeteria fund cash flow may leave neediest LAUSD students hungry.”

I tracked down the press release from that news conference, and it’s a doozy. Here are a few paragraphs:

Los Angeles— Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Ramon Cortines joined by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, Assembly Member Tom Torlakson, and other LAUSD officials announced today the District may run out of the money needed to feed hungry children. For many LAUSD students, the free and reduced priced breakfasts and lunches eaten at school are their only nutritious meals of the day.

“School children cannot learn when they are hungry,” said Superintendent Cortines. “We have several actions currently underway to drive costs down but, at some point, we could face impacts to the program itself. We may eventually be forced to replace fresh fruits and vegetables with less expensive frozen ones and offer fewer whole grain products although they are healthier than the alternative.”

…Meanwhile, the number of students who are eligible for the subsidized meals is growing as parents lose jobs or have their hours cut at work, and more families become homeless. While there is a decline in student enrollment, the District has served more than 10 million additional meals in the last two years.

…Torlakson’s bill (AB95) would specify that, if the Superintendent of Public Instruction determines that the appropriation set forth in the Budget Act of 2008–09 is insufficient to fully fund all free and reduced price meal reimbursement claims, the State Department of Education shall notify the Legislature of the statutory funding amount necessary to reimburse school districts at the prescribed rate. The bill would appropriate $19.5 million to reimburse claims pursuant to those provisions. This bill would declare that it is to take effect immediately.

“Some of our country’s greatest visionaries saw the school lunch program as a way to help lift American families out of economic despair during the depression era. They knew this early investment in our children would have long-term impacts on the health and education of America’s next work force,” said Torlakson. “Today, as more and more families face economic uncertainty and are forced to use this critical safety-net program, we can’t stand by and allow the funding to run dry.”

…“Unlike traditional department budgets, the Cafeteria Fund exists much like a business in that expenses are incurred to create products, and then reimbursement is received later from meals served. The loss of reimbursement from the State upsets that balance and leaves us with increasingly unaffordable costs. It is a recipe for failure,” explained LAUSD Business Manager Michael Eugene.

Fortunately, Torlakson’s bill went nowhere, although Torlakson himself was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2010. Eugene, strangely enough, was lauded in the oversight report for warning LAUSD about illegal misappropriations from the cafeteria fund in 2003. Apparently he was an internal watchdog and an external lapdog.

How many times have we seen press conferences like that one, with the guilt-inducing images of hungry children, homelessness and job losses? If only we weren’t so stingy and small-minded, and would cough up another $19.5 million to… what? Well, as it turned out, to buy lawn sprinklers for the district’s television station. The starving kids were a prop. The district superintendent and business manager were scamming us, and they got the the state schools superintendent and a prominent legislator to back them up.

The oversight committee members are convinced the problems they found are only a small sample of a systemic failure. But at least the lawns look nice.

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California… Naturally…

SWalker on February 7, 2013 at 5:59 PM

I remember when I was a freshman at a state school. Lived on campus. For the Thanksgiving meal, they had these lovely turkeys on display, carving stations and all. We got meat akin to frozen dinner slices while the workers took the good birds home. They also left us abandoned during a hurricane without food, having closed the cafeteria and sending all the employees home. My sister worked at the school, bought pizzas for my whole dorm. Not surprised in the least.

redmama on February 7, 2013 at 6:02 PM

If California weren’t second to Chicago in corruption, then right about now… Some heads would be rolling.

SWalker on February 7, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Well, because he is a Democrat we should be very cautious in accusing this well meaning person of anything.

pat on February 7, 2013 at 6:03 PM

{{facepalm}}

myiq2xu on February 7, 2013 at 6:06 PM

Let me guess, the money went to prop up salaries and retirements and conferences?

PattyJ on February 7, 2013 at 6:10 PM

School district bullies steal kids’ lunch money
posted at 5:51 pm on February 7, 2013 by Mike Antonucci
The California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes released a scathing report accusing many of the state’s largest school districts of diverting millions of dollars of federal and state aid for the school lunch program to other areas

they are stealing the food out of the mouths of babies and children?…wonder what their political affiliation is?

KOOLAID2 on February 7, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Hold on now, teacher’s union “meetings” in Barbados don’t come cheap, do you have any idea how much those inclusive resorts cost? Haters.

Bishop on February 7, 2013 at 6:16 PM

It’s California, so, “What difference does it make?”

Pork-Chop on February 7, 2013 at 6:18 PM

The starving kids were a prop.

Aren’t they always with the left?

iurockhead on February 7, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Jan Schakowsky did warn about food being taken away from children. But I’m pretty sure she wasn’t talking about this.

steebo77 on February 7, 2013 at 6:22 PM

“Some of our country’s greatest visionaries saw the school lunch program as a way to help lift American families out of economic despair during the depression era. They knew this early investment in our children would have long-term impacts on the health and education of America’s next work force,”

Feelgood revisionist liberal B.S. School lunch programs were started AFTER WWII to use up the excess food supplies that had been stockpiled for the military.

Just like every other welfare program, they’ve expanded to include everyone who doesn’t actually need it, robbing citizens of any sense of responsibility.

And if you notice shenanigans like these going on in the program, obviously you’re just a racist who hates inner city kids and want them to starve to death. No further discussion necessary.

CapnObvious on February 7, 2013 at 6:23 PM

The word “embezzle” was not found in this story.

BobMbx on February 7, 2013 at 6:24 PM

The word “embezzle” was not found in this story.

BobMbx on February 7, 2013 at 6:24 PM

…nor the word…d e m o c r a t !

KOOLAID2 on February 7, 2013 at 6:32 PM

“School children cannot learn when they are hungry,” said Superintendent Cortines.

Wrong. It isn’t optimal but my mom and her 3 brothers and 2 sisters grew up during the depression w/o a father. When each got into high school they had to help support the family on top of doing their school work. Each of them were the equivalent of B+ or higher gpa students. The oldest brother was a 3 sport per year letterman and the number 1 student in his class. They got one meal per day. Depending on how much money was earned for living expenses it was either lard and sugar or bread and milk.

chemman on February 7, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Excepting those who’ve fallen on hard times; if you can’t afford kids, don’t have them.

I’m sick of funding freebies for poor people.

Free prenatal care
Free deliveries
Free vaccinations
Free school lunches
Free daycare
Free_______

And I’m sick of the annual company and community drives for school supplies, winter coats, toys, et al.

I worked in Memphis until 2006 and one year I volunteered to hand out donated toys to ‘underprivileged’ members of the community at Christmas time.

Hundreds of people lined up before opening to receive their big bag of toys and even bicycles.

As I watched the ‘customers’ enter I saw nice jewelry, clothes, cell phones, etc. and many of the recipients putting the donated stash of toys into pretty nice cars. One even had a Cadillac Escalade if I recall correctly.

One lady who got FIVE brand new bicycles, for free!, complained that they weren’t the right mix of boys and girls bikes.

I was so disgusted I refused to do another event like that ever again.

The poor in America are not poor and I’m sick of having my taxes hiked repeatedly to support them.

Charlemagne on February 7, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Ah, Kalifornia… America’s inoperable brain tumor.

Myron Falwell on February 7, 2013 at 6:43 PM

There are still about a million tax payers in California.

There would be no problems if they would just pay their fair share.

CorporatePiggy on February 7, 2013 at 6:54 PM

“Some of our country’s greatest visionaries saw the school lunch program as a way to help lift American families out of economic despair during the depression era. They knew this early investment in our children would have long-term impacts on the health and education of America’s next work force,” said Torlakson.

If that were even slightly true the graduation rate wouldn’t be in the shi**er along the gazillions of dollars we’ve spent on the cesspool that is public edumacation…..

Tim Zank on February 7, 2013 at 7:03 PM

Just look for the “progressive” label.

Bruce MacMahon on February 7, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Just an aside. Many of these “free” lunch programs are legal double dipping programs. The kids get free lunch and breakfast and the parents still get food stamps based on 21 meals/week.

hopeful on February 7, 2013 at 7:32 PM

For many LAUSD students, the free and reduced priced breakfasts and lunches eaten at school are their only nutritious meals of the day.

It is not the role of the Federal Government to feed people.
If it any entity’s role, it should be the state at the behest of its people.
With the availability for all sorts of welfare food stamp programs, no one in this country has any excuse to go hungry.

This is why food supplement programs administered by the FED need to be eliminated.
It is not an enumerated power.
LEt the states worry about feeding their hungry.
Local control is best.

Badger40 on February 7, 2013 at 7:54 PM

chemman on February 7, 2013 at 6:38 PM

The human will is a powerful thing.

I was so disgusted I refused to do another event like that ever again.

The poor in America are not poor and I’m sick of having my taxes hiked repeatedly to support them.

Charlemagne on February 7, 2013 at 6:41 PM

I feel the same way.
There are no poor. Thrift stores with CHEAP clothes & toys ABOUND, even in my small corner of BFE here in ND.
OH sure it may not be the new nice stuff, but that is why being poor is undesirable & acts as a motivator to do better.
It is why I do not give to charities like this.
I will help in other ways I think are appropriate.

Badger40 on February 7, 2013 at 7:58 PM

Just another multi-million dollar money launder scam to benefit the teachers union.

locomotivebreath1901 on February 7, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Texas DEM senator is proposing a 1 cent per oz for soda to help the chirrens.

Anyone want to bet on how much of that the kids see? Anyone?

landowner on February 8, 2013 at 3:23 PM