MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Anoka-Hennepin School District is racking up serious debt for unpaid school meals.

Noah Atlas, director of child nutrition, says the district has seen student meal debt increase by 50 percent in the last few years.

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“So were looking at anywhere from $100 to $150 as a debt for a single student,” Atlas said.

That is the amount of money the district is owed by parents who are not paying for their kids lunches.

“Families are seeing those numbers and they’ve got to know they are there because we communicate with them very often,” he said.

Atlas says the district has reached out to parents by phone and mail, reminding them of what is owed, with no response. He says these are families that do not qualify for free or reduced lunches.

He says Anoka-Hennepin had no choice but to look outside for help.

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“Because we wanted to stay adult to adult in this situation, we felt that doing collections would keep it out of the realm of the student,” he said.

Atlas says students will not have restrictions on what they can participate in if their parents are subject to debt collection.

“We still don’t want it to have anything to do with academics or athletics because this is really a parent-to-parent conversation,” Atlas said. “This doesn’t affect what the students can do in school.”

There have never been consequences for not paying in the past. The district has seen more calls in recent days from families than they’ve seen in the past two years since hiring the debt collector.

“As of yesterday it was down $10,000 over the beginning of the year,” he said.

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Atlas says the idea to hire a debt collector came from other districts across the county who do the same thing to handle parents and unpaid debts.

Reg Chapman