School employee fudged meal counts, district says
TAMPA - A cafeteria manager who worked at two schools may be fired for inflating the number of meals served there, the Hillsborough school district said. Christopher P. Robinson, who has worked in student nutrition services at Carrollwood Elementary and Plant High, has been recommended for dismissal. The school board is scheduled to vote on the matter Tuesday. “You provided documentation that falsely reported an inflated number of meals served to the United States Department of Agriculture,” a letter from the school district to Robinson reads. “A district audit determined that as a result of your actions, Hillsborough County Public Schools was required to reimburse the USDA $5,778.44.” Each year, federal officials say, the USDA sets the reimbursement rate for school districts based on the number of paid, free and reduced-price meals served to students.The more meals reported, the more money the district gets. “We very rarely get cases like this,” said Erin Gillespie, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees school lunch programs. “Obviously, it’s illegal. It is taxpayer dollars.” Robinson was moved from Carrollwood to Plant to help boost a “stagnant” food program and sell more meals, documents from the school district show. Plant High is in one of Tampa’s wealthiest neighborhoods; mean household income for its zip code area is $126,500 compared to $69,600 citywide, census figures show. While at Plant, Robinson instructed cashiers to enter a bogus meal sale for every legitimate one, those documents say. The district got credit for the extra meal at the previous student’s rate. Robinson did that, records show, to boost participation numbers. At Plant, the total of inaccurate transactions was 4,419. At Carrollwood, the number was 1,940. District officials said the bad numbers came up in an audit. “Our goal is accurate reporting,” said Mary Kate Harrison, general manager of student nutrition for the district which serves about 200,000 meals a day. “I have to depend on every manager doing correct counts.” The school district gets as much as $6 million to $7 million from the federal government in meal reimbursement, Harrison said. Hillsborough gets different levels of money based on whether the student pays the full amount, a partial amount or gets a free meal. For every free lunch at a school such as Plant, the district gets $2.94 from the federal government. For a reduced-price lunch, the total is $2.54. For a paid lunch, it receives 35 cents. For every free breakfast at a school such as Plant, the district gets $1.55. For a reduced-price breakfast, the total is $1.25. For a paid breakfast, it receives 27 cents. Robinson, who lives in Lutz, violated school board policy pertaining to the falsification of information on an official document, the letter to him explains. He has worked for the district since September 2010, and received a salary of $19,500 at Carrollwood Elementary, according to payroll information provided by the district in October.