NORTH ADAMS -- The School Committee is considering implementing a no-charge policy for student lunches following discussions on how to address a $20,460.47 in delinquent meal accounts.
During Tuesday's meeting, committee members and the administration discussed how to both collect money and not bring children into the issue. Mayor Richard J. Alcombright suggested bringing the students' parents or guardians to small claims court in order to collect money.
"I think people will act much differently from a phone call from a lawyer than a school lunch person or a principal," he said.
Alcombright said he will reach out to a collections agent that works for the city to learn more about the process, and will update the committee at next month's meeting.
"My concerns are the kids, and not having them stigmatized because someone else's interest in not paying," Superintendent James Montepare said. "If someone's having hardship here, we're the first to come up and find a resolve ... But it's a monitoring nightmare. It's labor intensive and it's just not working."
Montepare added many of the families that have a negative meal account balance do not receive free or reduced lunch.
He said that Food Services Director Corbett Nicholas has already reached out to many families with negative charges, but noted it is a time consuming effort.
Montepare said one preventative measure he discussed with Nicholas is a no-charge policy, in which students could receive an alternative, "commodity" lunch consisting of a sandwich, fruit and milk instead of the day's main entree.
"The main entree is what costs the food service program money," he said. "Commodities are considerably less costly."
Various committee members agreed with the need to collect funds from families that owed money.
"It's going to impede the ability to continue to provide these quality meals for all of our children if [families] don't actually step up and pay," Vice Chairperson Heather Boulger said.
In related business, the committee voted an increase in school meal prices. Student lunch increased from $2.00 to $2.10 and student breakfast increased from $1.00 to $1.10. Adult breakfast increased from $1.75 to $2.00 and adult lunch increased from $2.75 to $3.00.
School meal prices are increasing slowly and is mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Montepare explained. Federal regulations require student lunch prices match the reimbursement rate paid to the district by the government for students receiving free and reduced lunch.
"We're still considerably lower than all of the surrounding areas," Montepare said.
In other business, the committee approved 11 early dismissal days at the elementary and high school level for the 2013-2014 school year for professional development. The number is up from last year's request for nine, Montepare said, because of new mandated requirements including CPR certification.
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