Audit says free lunch program mix-up could have high price - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Kontji Anthony

Audit says free lunch program mix-up could have high price

It began with a money mix-up that cost taxpayers $3.7 million, but now it seems the losses could soon stack up even higher.

Members of the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners fear the results of an internal audit that found big mistakes in the system's Free and Reduced Meal program could eventually cause the district to lose federal money.

"You look through it, it's one mistake after another," said school board member Jeff Warren.

The audit shows James Jordan, the former Director of the Central Nutrition Center, eliminated the old Free and Reduced Meal program's application process, replacing it with a $10,000 scanning program.

The scanning program, having never been tested in Memphis, did not always work properly, and caused problems at certain schools.  When some schools could not determine if students were eligible, cafeteria managers let all children eat free.  At other schools, all children were made to pay.

Eventually, taxpayer dollars were used to pay overtime to fix the problem.  During the two months the Free and Reduced Meal process did not work properly, Memphis City Schools lost $271,000 in revenue.

"There's got to be a way for someone like this to pay restitution," said school board member Stephanie Gatewood.

Because ineligible children ate free, Memphis City Schools could be out of compliance in a program that allows the district to receive federal money for the Free and Reduced Lunch program.
The new superintendent has put a strict new program in place.

"We have a committee that is ordering food," Warren said. "We have someone that's been placed in charge that's a longstanding employee that understands the process."

The Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners is considering the formation of a quality assurance office to make sure something like this never happens again.
Former Central Nutrition Center James Jordan resigned in October.

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