In Todd Carmichael's eyes, it's another outrageous turn in an already outrageous story. The CEO of La Colombe coffee says that he wants to pony up $22,467.76 to wipe out the school-lunch debts of kids within the Wyoming Valley West School District—a Pennsylvania district that famously threatened the possibility of children being placed in foster care if their debts weren't paid. But Carmichael's offer has apparently been declined. The Philadelphia Inquirer speaks with a consultant for the Philly-based La Colombe; Aren Platt says Carmichael was moved to help having himself relied on food stamps and free lunch as a child. He asked Platt to contact the school district's attorney, then the superintendent, but neither responded to her. On Monday, Platt managed to get in touch with school board president Joseph Mazur and was rebuffed.
Platt says Mazur expressed that he believed the hundreds of parents who received letters about their debt have the means to pay but "just want to get something for free." The move "was about shaming people," she says. Pennsylvania Department of Education figures show 64% of students in the district live below the poverty line. Carmichael confirmed the denial in a statement to the Citizens' Voice: "Shockingly, Mr. Mazur turned us down. I can't explain or justify his actions. Let me be clear: we offered over $22,000 with no strings attached. And he said 'NO.'" On Monday, Luzerne County Manager David Pedri reassured parents, telling CNN, "Luzerne County foster care will never take a kid for not paying school debt." (A similar offer was turned down in Rhode Island.)