By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — The school district is serving up a lot of lunch choices and a new policy aimed at keeping school lunch debt in check.
The School Board approved a new lunch policy that went into effect April 1 aimed at helping manage unpaid balances in the district.
Business administrator Jane Simard said lunch debt was hovering at about $11,000 and the new policy would help deal with those delinquent accounts while making sure children always have a nutritious lunch.
Previous measures in place would allow children with no money to charge a full lunch meal at the register. The new policy gives children showing a negative balance of $20 or more an alternative meal of a cheese sandwich and fruit. The student’s account would be charged $1 for the alternative meal.
On the first day of the new policy, Gilbert H. Hood Middle School staff members were ready to offer a big selection of entrees, fruit, vegetables and other items. Staffers made sure the line moved smoothly and checkout was easy.
Children need to take a certain number of nutritious elements for it to count as a full meal. If not, the district won’t receive its government reimbursement funding.
“We’re working really hard to make the program work,” Simard said.
Schools are working hard, Simard said, to get the information out to parents about delinquent accounts. Notices are sent home by various means to make sure families are aware.
“There should be no surprises for anybody,” Simard said.
There has been a lot of support for the new policy. There has even been an anonymous $400 donation to help several families settle their outstanding lunch bills.
Cindy Nusbaum has worked in the district eight years and said the main mission is to make sure children are fed.
“We’ve also worked very hard to make sure parents are notified,” she said.
Simard said it’s important for information to get out to parents to remind them that money needs to remain in their child’s lunch account.
It’s also important to make sure the children are cared for and not put in an awkward situation where they come through the lunch line and find out their account doesn’t have enough money to purchase the lunch.
Accounts are updated daily, Simard said. It’s the goal to work with families and be as respectful and discreet as possible.
She said every school works differently on how they will handle notifying parents about unpaid lunch balances.
The district also has an online lunch payment system. Parents can also still sign up for the free and reduced lunch program, Simard said.