Hampstead Considers How to Address Parents’ Lunchroom Debt

HAMPSTEAD – School Administrative Unit (SAU) 55, which is composed of the Hampstead and Timberlane School Districts, is in the process of coming to grips with the lunch debt both districts have previously carried from one year to the next. Timberlane is composed of the Sandown, Danville, Plaistow and Atkinson districts.

Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson told the Hampstead School Board at its Tuesday, Sept. 10 meeting that the process had been that when parents accrue a lunchroom debt, the school districts tried to collect but if necessary, would carry it into the next year. There is no language in the Food Service Meal Account Balances regarding parents who do not pay their children’s lunch debt.
Wilson said she and Superintendent Earl Metzler are looking at offering an alternative lunch to children whose parents have failed to satisfy their lunchroom debt.
“Right now we do provide the regular lunch and we are basically just giving away a free lunch,” Wilson said. “I want to get some recommendations on what to do. I am not in favor of taking the position that if you don’t pay, you don’t get lunch.”
Several members of the Hampstead board emphasized they would not support cutting off lunches for students but would be interested in providing an alternative lunch for those children whose parents had failed to pay their debt.
Wilson said she is looking for a policy with more teeth in it to address this issue and with a means to keep the debt from escalating. The choices of what to do are slim – give lunches to non-paying students and write it off or provide an alternative lunch.
District Business Manager George Stokinger said the board could budget for the potential debt.
Board member Greg Hoppa said the matter should go to the policy committee, which would bring to the board a recommended policy for review.
Information from the SAU on the federal position on food service debt noted that “food service debt must be recovered annually; waiting until a student graduates is not effective debt management for food service.”
Pinkerton Academy student board member Michael Luppold asked if students going on to Pinkerton continued to carry the debt and was told they did. He suggested dealing with it as PA does – if a student owes anything, he or she does not get to graduate.
The federal government has issued a call to rein in uncollected debt, stating that “Bad debts, including losses (whether actual or estimated) arising from uncollectible accounts and other claims, related collection costs, and relaxed legal costs, are not allowable.
The Food Service operation may not incur debt whether it is running in the red or the black. Meal debt may not be carried over year to year by students; the food service operation must be reimbursed by another fund on an annual basis, at which point the meal debt belongs to the school district. The SAU is in a position that they can decide to hold student diplomas, utilize small claims court, etc. to recoup outstanding meal debt.
In other business:
• Wilson asked the board how it wished to proceed with the School District Strategic Plan. The current plan was created in 2008, utilizing community input.
The majority of the board said the mission and vision of the document were good to continue but most agreed the goals should be updated, eliminating goals that have been completed and adding new ones.
Board member Jason Cipriano made a case for the strategic goals being fundamentally the most important document of the district because it sets the tone and path to move forward, playing a role in every board decision. He questioned whether all the board members’ goals were in alignment and suggested a significant community involvement role in updating the document.
• Luppold told the board that while Hampstead students in most areas do well and are well prepared at Pinkerton, one area in which they are not well prepared is English, where they haven’t learned the format Pinkerton uses for all writing.
The board was stunned to hear this and Chairwoman Natalie Gallo said this should be examined.
Hampstead students are tuitioned to the semi-private Pinkerton Academy in Derry for high school.

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