Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Lunch Lady Retirement Fund Scandal


From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

For four years, nearly half-a-million dollars quietly vanished from cafeteria registers at two schools in Connecticut. No one noticed the money was missing from the schools in New Canaan until 2017, when the school district installed an enhanced accounting system, authorities said. Now two sisters are accused of allegedly pocketing $478,000 in cash from New Canaan Public Schools in a scalm [sic] that authorities say dates back to 2013.

Let's make the best case possible for two lunch ladies being able to steal $478k in five years (2013-2017) ...

The New Canaan School District includes a total of five schools and a student body of 4,210.

So, let's assume that these two lunch ladies worked at two separate schools and that they were the largest ones (presumably the middle school and high school rather than any of the three elementary schools). And let's further assume that the population split between those schools is 50% spread across the three elementary schools and 25% each at the middle school and high school. So the total number of students handing money to these ladies would be 2,105, on the most pro-theft-opportunity assumption (that all of the students pay for lunch, and do so in cash).

The school year in Connecticut, as in most states, totals 180 days. The full-price hot lunch is $4 at both Saxe Middle School and New Canaan  High School.

So, 180 days times $4 times 2,105 students = $1,515,600 per year. Times five years, total of $7,578,000.

Let's take a look at the assumptions above before moving on.

We're assuming that every student ate lunch every day.

We're assuming that every student paid the full price for lunch, and paid in cash.

And we're assuming that every last dime of that cash was handed to one of those two lunch ladies.

In which case, these ladies are accused of stealing 6.4% of the schools' gross lunch revenues, one dollar out of every $15.88.

But of course those assumptions are unduly tilted toward maximum theft opportunity.

Some students probably brought their lunches. Others probably skipped lunch some days. Even though New Canaan is a very-high income town, probably at least a few students received free or reduced-price lunches. These two women were almost certainly not the only people accepting money at the lunch counter, and they probably did not each work all 180 possible days every year for five years.

And while a new accounting software setup was implemented recently, the school district allowed payment at point of sale by check or money order, and pre-payment by check, money order or electronically before that (at least as early as the 2015-2016 school year -- the Wayback Machine gets errors on earlier years).

I would be very surprised to learn that as much as half the money assumed above passed through these two pairs of hands. If the number was that high, then they were stealing 12.8% -- one dollar out of every eight. And I strongly suspect that the cash payments came to a lot less, and passed through more hands, and that thus the percentage allegedly stolen by these two amounted to a lot more, than that.

Well, maybe they did steal that much over that long. But if they did, the school district's accountants were asleep at the switch for five years too.

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