New School Lunch Policy Gives Parents Food For Thought

Falling behind in school lunch payments will now cost Londonderry parents even more starting in April. The School Board approved revisions to Dining Service Management that will start charging fees for negative account balances. The reasoning behind the change is that the fees will help offset the massive amount of debt the dining services program has accrued since the beginning of the year.

Amanda Venezia, the director of dining services, checked the balance on Jan. 5 and said the district’s meal program is in the red by $20,185.02. She reported that 592 of the registered 3,954 elementary, middle and high school students owe lunch money. Out of those kids, 118 of them owe at least $50 and make up $13,964.04 of the total debt.

“It’s a very small percentage,” said Venezia, “but it takes up the majority of the debt.”

Venezia said she is concerned because the number of students owing money towards their meals “has been steadily increasing year over year.”

School lunches cost less than $3.00 a meal: elementary kids pay $2, middle schoolers pay $2.50 and high schoolers are charged $2.75. Comparing those costs to the current debt, the district has comped around 10,000 lunches so far this year.

If the debt is not paid by the families, then the district is forced to pay for it by taking money from other programs.

“Some people think we’re trying to nickel and dime them, but that’s not the case,” said Venezia.

To prevent that from happening, the district will be charging a monthly fee to parents whose children’s meal accounts fall into the negative. A copy of the new policy can be found on the dining service’s website.

The fees are broken into three tiers, and will cost more depending on how much is owed. Accounts that owe between $50 to $99.99 will be charged $10 a month. If you owe between $100 to $199.99 a month then your surcharge will be $20. Families owing over $200 on their accounts will have to face a whopping $50 a month fee. These late fees will be charged to the accounts starting the first week of April and will be applied every month after that.

Once a child’s meal account falls under $5, the parents will receive an email (as long as they are signed up for it) to let them know the balance is low. If it falls into the negative, families will receive weekly emails reminding them to settle the debt. Once more than $20 is due, the emails will come twice a week.

Anyone not signed up on the district email list will be sent a paper copy. Paper statements will be mailed out once a month automatically if the accounts accrue more than $50 of debt.

There is good news for families that may have negative balances. First, your child will not be denied a meal if there is no money on the account. They will not have access to special snacks, but they will still get a lunch, according to their assigned menu.

“We don’t punish students for parents’ actions,” said Venezia. “We don’t do that in Londonderry.” According to her, this policy is a lot less strict that other school districts.

The other piece of good news is that parents can talk to Venezia if they are having difficulties paying their bill. They can find out if they qualify for assistance, like free or reduced lunches.

“Give us a call and let’s have that conversation,” said Venezia.

According to Venezia, almost 11 percent of enrolled students in Londonderry are participating in the free or reduced lunch program. “It’s actually quite low compared to other districts in NH,” she said.

Venezia said she knows the news of the fees will be shocking to some families. “We’re working on getting it solved before April first.” In the meantime, families can contact her to pay a bill or ask questions about the fees or the free or reduced lunch program at avenezia@londonderry.org.

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