, Derry, New Hampshire

March 6, 2014

Derry school officials ponder lunch deficits

Children can always eat, but parents need to pay up

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — A new school district policy may help officials deal better with managing school lunch debt.

School Board members heard details at a meeting Feb. 11 concerning how to handle the district’s outstanding unpaid school lunch debt, now totaling about $11,000.

A new policy being drafted may help deal with those delinquent accounts, while making sure children always have a nutritious lunch during the day.

Derry’s food service program is self-funded.

“We’re working really hard to make the program work,” business administrator Jane Simard said.

She said the unpaid lunch bills are a grave concern for the district.

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.

“You don’t want to embarrass a child,” Simard said, “and we’re not going to take a plate of food away from a child.”

Simard hopes to present more information at a later date to help inform parents about how the cafeteria works and just what children are eating at lunchtime.

Right now, parents at the elementary school level get invoices, showing how much they have in their account or what they owe. Middle school efforts aren’t as successful in that area, Simard said, as invoices often don’t make it home to the parents.

The district also has an online lunch payment system.

The new policy would give children a maximum amount they can charge for lunches. After they reach that amount, a child would receive a cheaper alternative.

The policy also would give district officials an opportunity to contact the family’s home when a lunch account in the negative.

Simard said the district’s Food Service Committee visited other schools in town and also researched what other communities were doing to support lunch programs and make them successful.

Simard said she is proud of what Derry’s food service program is doing. She said all staff members work extremely hard to make sure children receive the most nutritious lunch possible.

She said the new policy is reasonable and necessary.

“We take the utmost care and consideration not to embarrass anyone,” she said.

Parents can call the district office for information at 432-1210.