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Londonderry looks to get tougher with student lunch debt

By CHRIS GAROFOLO
Union Leader Correspondent

September 13. 2017 11:55PM




LONDONDERRY — The Londonderry School Board is tightening language in both the student handbook and the district’s policy to curb the rampant misuse of dining services debt, which has tripled in the past year.

District leaders will craft a finalized version to present before the board for its Sept. 26 meeting. Earlier this month, the board requested Peter Curro, district business administrator, to put together proposals on how the district could address the debt accrued from parents in town not paying for school lunches.

In Londonderry, the normal debt for dining services is around $5,000. This past school year, however, it and specifically spell out parents’ obligations for any lunch debts for their children.

Students in the negative will receive a meal, but may not purchase a la carte items such as soda. Parents may contact the dining services department to establish further restrictions on what students may purchase.

The most controversial item in the handbook draft is a monthly surcharge that grows from $10 for smaller debts to up to $50 each month for deficits of more than $200.

An account reaching $250 or more is subject to the district’s attorney or a collection agency, with parents picking up the tab for any legal or court fees.

Dinng services will continue to send out letters and emails regarding the open balance to families and to principals throughout the district, so students are aware of any deficit. It also does not influence those students on the free and reduced lunch program.

The school board had mixed reactions to the proposals.

Board Vice Chairwoman Jenn Ganem said the new language provides “more skin in the game” and puts the responsibility on parents.

Fellow board member Nancy Hendricks said she is fine with keeping indebted families accountable because it is not right to the Londonderry taxpayers, but lamented the fact that such a strong stance may embarrass students if they cannot go on a class field trip or even receive a sandwich if their parents don’t pay their tab.

“So, I don’t want to go there. I think we have to find a way to go after those parents that don’t pay their bills,” she said, adding she is uncomfortable with the idea students may go the entire day without lunch if their parents own money.

“I’m never going to sign-up for sending (students) off to afternoon classes without a meal,” she said. “I don’t want to be that, at all. However, I don’t want a family owning us $1,000 at the end of the year either; a family that is not in crisis, a family that isn’t having some kind of catastrophic event.”

Leitha Reilly, also of the board, referred to the debt as stealing and wanted very specific language to prevent it in the future.

With the board agreeing to move forward, Curro said the district will begin the official three-reading procedure to adopt the new policy and put it into effect with the dining service administrative protocol.


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